Madelaine Mulaire, left, and Olaf Sztaba developed a deep bond in the wake of a health crisis. Photo by Agnieszka Krawczynski

Life-saving act of kindness creates life-long friendship

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 23, 2018
COQUITLAM, B.C. – Eleven years ago, a very ill young father received the Christmas gift of a lifetime.

“When you are so sick, the hope that something can happen, that it can turn around, it gives you a few extra years in your life. You get out of bed better, you function differently. You were in a state of hopelessness, of total despair, and suddenly there’s this angel,” said Olaf Sztaba.

His “angel” was Madeleine Mulaire, an elementary school teacher and perfect stranger. Eleven years ago, she offered him the gift of a kidney.

Sztaba had been suffering serious health problems for many years, starting with a mysterious viral infection that put him in an intensive care unit for six months and resulted in several complications including flesh-eating disease and kidney failure.

“I reached a point when doctors said I wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital,” said Sztaba. “There was a moment when some doctors asked for my wife’s permission to disconnect me from life support because there was no hope for me.”

After six months in the ICU, Sztaba, his wife Kasia and their young son moved from Calgary to Vancouver to be closer to relatives. For the next three years, Sztaba spent four hours in the hospital three days a week for dialysis.

“I was very sick. Dialysis was not working well for me and I had big problems with blood pressure and other issues. Everybody knew I needed a transplant,” he said.

His parents, in-laws and siblings were tested, but they were not a match or had other underlying health conditions that prevented them from donating. 

“I reached a point where I was so depressed I just gave up,” said Sztaba of those events in 2006. His wife, “in an act of desperation on her side, drove to our parish to pray.”

Kasia arrived at St. Clare of Assisi Parish and saw her pastor Fr. Craig Scott, who agreed to publish a notice in the parish bulletin to find a donor. A few parishioners stepped up, but none were a match. 

Desperate, Kasia asked five other parishes to publish the notice as well. Mulaire was a member of St. Clare of Assisi Parish and had heard about a father in his thirties who needed a kidney transplant, but figured someone else in the large parish would help him.

Then, while visiting Our Lady of Fatima in early July and seeing the same message in their bulletin, “it struck me. This person must be in dire need.”

Mulaire phoned the parish and set up a meeting with the family. “He was skinny and sick, his whole face and demeanour showed it.”

She asked how she could help, and Kasia hesitantly pulled out a pamphlet about organ donation. Mulaire took it home and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“Whenever I’m questioning things and I don’t have answers, I go to my garden and I start mucking around,” she said. “The answer that came to me was: Why not?”

Mulaire was not satisfied with that answer, so she kept working. Then, she remembered: “I had a near-death experience in 1991. ... I was pregnant with a third child and my uterus ruptured.” When she arrived at emergency, doctors had no idea what happened and couldn’t find a pulse.

The teacher suddenly felt she’d been given a second chance at life for this opportunity to help. She underwent tests and found out she was a match for Sztaba.

“I had to take it all in. This is big. Someone is acting upon us. To me, that was God. For me it was very spiritual and a very deep calling. I couldn’t live with myself if I said no.”

Sztaba felt a ray of hope enter his life. “This hope that Madeleine gave me, even if it didn’t work out, it would be the greatest gift I’d received,” he said. “I started thinking about all of those years back when I was in hospital and I met all these remarkable people in my life who were helping me along the way.”

Small acts of kindness, plus Mulaire’s “great finale,” gave Sztaba hope and strength. “I try, every day, to make one act of kindness, even a little one. That’s the core of my faith.”

The surgery went successfully Nov. 28, 2006. Sztaba and Mulaire have gone from complete strangers to close friends.

Sztaba believes he would not be alive now without Mulaire’s incredible gift. He has since spent 11 anniversaries with Kasia, seen his son’s 17th birthday, and left a career in finance for his dream job as full-time photographer.

It was a life-changing experience for his kidney donor, too. 

“It just opened up my heart to loving people even more,” said Mulaire, who found herself flying to Africa one year later to teach. She’s since created Yaakaar Women Helping Women, a group that teaches women in Senegal to read, write and run small businesses.

“The transplant really opened my heart to not be afraid, not to get that first reaction of fear, but let it sit there and see how it can change you.”

(The B.C. Catholic)

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