Aviator given a new lease of life

For more than a decade, Squadron Leader Mark Oksanen grappled with the question, ‘When am I going to lose my kidneys?’

CAPTION: Squadron Leader Mark Oksanen with wife Joanne after transplant surgery in Perth in July last year. Story by Corporal Veronica O’Hara.

He was diagnosed with a kidney and immune system disease 15 years ago.

In 2021, his kidneys suddenly failed.

What started next were periods of life-changing dialysis for hours every day and night, including while at work.

“Imagine a fine metal sieve, which is like normal functioning kidneys,” the air traffic controller at RAAF Base Pearce said.

“Then think of a sieve you use with pasta – that’s mine.”

While his wife may have been a match, the couple had two young children to think about so Squadron Leader Oksanen opted to wait for a kidney from a deceased donor.

This was a fraught wait, with two per cent of people who die in Australian hospitals eligible to donate.

In 2022, only 1400 people met the criteria.

Last July, Squadron Leader Oksanen received a donation in Perth and has since been getting back to the activities he loved as a kid.

A keen soccer player who competed at state level as a junior, sport played a big part of his life.

Athletics and javelin competitions with his father and sister were cherished memories.

It wasn’t until he posted on social media that he heard about the world’s biggest sporting event dedicated to raising awareness about organ donation.

This month, the World Transplant Games will be held in Perth and it is the third time Australia has hosted the annual competition since it started in 1978.

This year, Squadron Leader Oksanen will compete in individual and team golf, tennis, soccer, and javelin.

He will join about 2000 other elite and social athletes from more than 50 countries participating in the seven-day program.

Because of his condition, due to a defective form of immunoglobulin, Squadron Leader Oksanen said eventually his new kidney will fail.

He will continue to find catharsis through sport until then.

Activities like the Red Socks Run – where he ran and rode 60km last October to raise awareness about the 60 hours kidney disease patients spend on dialysis each month – have benefits for both physical and mental health.

“As I compete, I’ll reflect on life, my health journey and the transplant while cherishing each moment,” he said.


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