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Marathon Man: How an Elma man survived dialysis and kept running

Evan Klima runs on the trail at Vance Creek Park. A fun run to raise funds for Klima will be held on Jan. 26 at the park.Buy Photo
Evan Klima runs on the trail at Vance Creek Park. A fun run to raise funds for Klima will be held on Jan. 26 at the park.
Brendan Carl | The Vidette Evan Klima takes a break between runs and poses for a photo.Buy Photo
Brendan Carl | The Vidette Evan Klima takes a break between runs and poses for a photo.
Kane Klima (left) shows off the medal his father Evan Klima (right) received for the First Call Veterans Day half-marathon in Bothell on Nov. 9, 2013. The race was Klima's first and one of five half-marathons he has run.Buy Photo
Kane Klima (left) shows off the medal his father Evan Klima (right) received for the First Call Veterans Day half-marathon in Bothell on Nov. 9, 2013. The race was Klima's first and one of five half-marathons he has run.
Evan Klima(left) and his son, Kane, show off the medals and trophies from all 17 of the races he has completed.Buy Photo
Evan Klima(left) and his son, Kane, show off the medals and trophies from all 17 of the races he has completed.
Evan Klima(left) runs alongside Jennifer Hartley on the trail at Vance Creek Park. Hartley helped train Klima to run the Seattle Marathon on Dec. 1.Buy Photo
Evan Klima(left) runs alongside Jennifer Hartley on the trail at Vance Creek Park. Hartley helped train Klima to run the Seattle Marathon on Dec. 1.

Klima, 36, says that his 10-year-old son, Kane, has been his inspiration. He wants nothing more than to be a role model for Kane and encourage him to never give up on his dreams.

“I think what is amazing about Evan is he pushes on and sets aside the challenge that he has and goes all out,” friend Jennifer Hartley said.

“Since spring, Evan has lost 60 pounds, has experienced an increase in his energy, has been able to cut his medications in half and is an inspiration to other dialysis patients and the local community of athletes,” Hartley wrote in a letter seeking sponsors for Evan back in November. “It has been an honor and a humbling experience working with Evan, I have seen him struggle against the fatigue that his disease brings and watch with admiration as he consistently perseveres and advances.”

At an early age, Klima showed promise as an athlete and when he got to Elma High School and joined the wrestling team. He trained long hours and enjoyed weightlifting. If you had told him then that he would be attempting to run a marathon in Seattle in 2013 he would never have believed you.

“I never paid attention to people that did that,” Klima said of long-distance runners. “Honestly, I don’t even like running that much.”

It wasn’t his first choice of competition as an athlete, but in the past year, he has completed six half-marathons, five 5Ks, three triathlons, two 10Ks and one duathlon. It would be an impressive schedule for any athlete, but these are just the events Evan has completed since starting dialysis.

Klima’s love for wrestling helped him earn a chance to walk on at Central Washington University. Competition helped him get the most out of his body, but he didn’t win many matches as a Wildcat. Then, when he was 19, his life changed when there was blood in his urine.

He had transferred to a college in Phoenix and went to see several specialists. None of the doctors seemed to have an answer in what was wrong with him so he gave up the search and figured there was nothing wrong. But, seven years later, it happened again and, this time, he would get his answer.

A kidney biopsy at the University of Washington Medical Center revealed he had IgA Nephropathy, a disorder where the kidneys do not function properly to filter toxins out of the blood, and his kidneys only functioned at 50 percent capacity.

Doctors prescribed Cytoxan and Prednisone, drugs used in the treatment of cancer. The more he took the medications that were supposed to help save his life, the worse he felt. He couldn’t work. Exercising was near impossible. For the fierce competitor, not being able to work out was almost a death sentence. He stopped taking the medications.

“I just said, ‘Heck with it’ and stopped taking all that stuff and started going back to the gym,” Klima said. “I stopped going to the doctor.”

THE DECLINE

In 2003, Klima’s son, Kane, was born. It was at that moment, that Evan realized if he didn’t start taking care of his body and his disease, he may not be around to see all of the important moments in his son’s life. He went back to the doctor.

In about 2009, Klima’s kidneys were only at 25 percent function, yet he never slowed down to think what might happen if a transplant wasn’t found in the future. He worked 40 hours a week and cared for his son every step of the way. He would wake up tired and susceptible to any wayward sneeze or cough, but he rolled out of bed, laced up and ran to forget every challenge that he faced.

As he continued to ramp up his training, his kidneys continued to shut down. They fell to 20 percent, then 15 percent, down to 10 percent and, in March, Klima got the news that he only had 6 percent function. There was now no other choice than to go on dialysis, a process where the blood is extracted from his body, cleaned and then put back in his body. That would take around 15 hours a week — time he could no longer spend training or lifting weights. Wrapped inside the bad news was a glimmer of hope. Cardio training was encouraged as part of his new regiment.

It didn’t make much sense to Klima as to why he could run, bike and swim, but weightlifting was off limits, yet he took to the road to begin training.

He ran seven miles one day, then biked 25 miles the next. He’d start the day with a 10-mile bike ride and then a few light weight lifts against the doctors wishes. Then, he’d end the week with another long run or a 25 to 30 mile bike ride.

After a couple of weeks of hard work to keep himself in shape, Klima thought as long as he was doing all of this training, he might as well do a competition or two. On May 19, Klima lined up and ran the Capitol City half-marathon.

“At first it was just kind of like a game because you have to maintain your water weight,” Klima said. “Then, I started getting good at it so I thought I might as well start doing these races. My first race was a half marathon and it just took off from there.”

Klima isn’t one to do things halfway. He ran a 5K in Vancouver, Wash., on June 15 and then ran a half-marathon the next day. Soon, he had plans to run a race every weekend. A torn meniscus in July derailed his plans through the summer, but as soon as he could run again he was back racing.

Klima competed all over the state and never missed a weekend from the Mary Meyer Cottage Lake Triathlon in Woodinville on Sept. 6 to the First Call Veterans Day half-marathon in Bothell on Nov. 9.

During his triathlon competitions, Klima struggled with the swim leg and then would pass other runners as he ran and biked the rest of the event. He was so tired of starting the competition behind so many runners that he began to search the internet for help to improve his swimming. In his search, Klima found a running club in the area and one of the members, Hartley, told him he should join the group for an open water swim. The group embraced Klima and Hartley began to notice that he was overtraining. Hartley is a personal trainier and has been running competitively for three decades so she began to help Klima not just compete for his health, but for a medal.

“His ambition and his goals are really great and they are what give him that competitive edge,” Hartley said. “He is intense. He is very tenatious. He is such an encourager to the people around him.”

Armed with professional training and an intense drive, Klima felt he could do almost anything, even run 26.2 miles.

The man who had already faced a tough marathon of life decided he would try and race one.

THE MARATHON

Each year, the University of Washington Medical Center has several transplant recipients run the Seattle half-marathon as members of Team Transplant. In 2013, Klima would represent the team in the full marathon while he still awaited a new kidney.

Klima had become almost a celebrity around the medical center as doctors began to hear his story and when he lined up to begin the marathon on Dec. 1, there were many supporters tuned in to watch the electronic tracker of his progress through the race.

He began to feel the pressure mount the day before as he set a goal time in his mind. Three hours and 45 minutes. Was the goal too lofty? Would he even finish? In his practice for the race, he had never run more than 20 miles.

Bang!

He was sprinting in his first marathon. The pavement flew by under his feet and after just over an hour he had already passed the eight-mile mark.

Then, his pace began to slow. He passed the 13-mile mark 48 minutes later and fell off the electronic tracker.

Klima’s disorder causes potassium to flow through his body quickly and his knee began to cramp. His tendons were tightening as other runners passed him and the determined runner became frustrated.

Throughout his preparation for the event, Klima had heard people refer to him as their ‘inspiration’, ‘encouragement’ and ‘hero.’ All the while, Klima’s “hero” was standing on the sidelines in a bright green shirt to cheer him on with every stride. Kane has been there for his father with endless support before, during and after every race.

Klima is a single father and has Kane with him 70 percent of the time simply because the 10-year-old boy wants to be there for his dad to ensure he is taken care of as much as possible.

“Being 10 years old and able to understand that his dad has a serious illness and be able to deal with it,” Klima said. “My son is my number one fan and he attends most of my races. I always place the finish medal around his neck because he is my hero.”

As he saw his son at the halfway point he wanted to finish more than ever, but he would need some help before that happened in the form of goo.

THE FINISH

In all of his preparation for the race, Klima had packed several energy gels known as GU. The nutrient packed gels helped to put the potassium, carbohydrates and electrolytes that flushed through his system back in his body. He consumed the gels as quick as he could and was on his way.

The gels worked for a few miles, but by mile 20 Klima was in pain again. His pace had slowed to more than 10 minutes per mile. Sweat pouring off his face, he continued on undeterred from his goal.

Finally, he reached the finish in four hours, 28 minutes and six seconds.

“I did it,” Klima exclaimed.

He hadn’t made his goal time or won the race. What he had done was something no other runner could say that day. He had overcome the odds to run 26.2 miles with only 6 percent kidney function.

The smile on Klima’s face grew wider as he hugged Kaneand placed the medal around his neck. There was no doubt he was a winner.

THE CALL

When Klima walked to his front door after the race he could already feel the affects of the marathon distance on his body. His muscles were sore and the tendons in his knee were tight. The struggle to unpack his equipment from the run was almost like running another marathon. So when the phone rang 30 minutes after he got home, he wasn’t exactly in a dead sprint to pick up the receiver.

He had received the call before.

It was from the UW Medical Center. They had a kidney that might be a match.

So many thoughts raced through his head as he decided to take a walk.

“Somebody else will probably get it,” he said to himself.

The next day he rolled his stiff, sore body out of bed to answer the call that would change his life once more.

Almost exactly 24 hours after the starting gun for the Seattle Marathon, there was another call from the medical center.

Tears streamed down the faces of both father and son as Evan and Kane embraced.

“I asked (Kane) why he was crying,” Klima said. “He replied that he was happy that his dad doesn’t have to do dialysis anymore and that I wont be as sick as I was.”

In less than an hour he was on his way to Seattle again.

They wheeled him down to see his new kidney. The man who had been nervous about the marathon was at ease with getting a new organ. He knew that this meant no more four-hour dialysis sessions and a chance to be there for Kane.

“I just feel so much better,” Klima said. “Now that I have my transplant I really get to see what I can do.”

In 48 hours he had run 26.2 miles and had a kidney transplant. Not a bad weekend.

THE FUTURE

Klima’s body has responded well to the kidney and he has already begun training once again. He will have to make about two trips a week back to Seattle so the doctors can monitor his progress and adjust medication.

After being unable to work while he was on dialysis, Klima is ready to make up for lost time. He has already been scheduled to share his inspiring story with students and other community groups who want to hear his experience first hand and he even signed up for an Ironman competition this summer, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

“Life is challenging,” Hartley said. “In the middle of my day, if I’m having a pity party about anything I think of Evan and then it is great perspective. He told me his goal this year is four marathons, two Ironman and a ton of 5Ks. He thinks he can do it all right now.”