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Man with donated kidney cycles across Canada to spread organ donation awareness

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Every day this summer, Ron Hahn is cycling 90 kilometres to show Canadians the difference a kidney can make.

The Edmonton man, an organ recipient, is on a coast-to-coast, 8600-kilometre trip to spread organ donation awareness.

Hahn, whose kidneys started failing in 2004, received a donation from his father two years later — a gift with a "miraculous" impact.

"Renal failure is feeling like a hangover. You've got a headache, you've got no energy," he said via phone in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., about halfway through his trip.

"But as I was waking up from the surgery, I could feel the difference... You feel amazing. You just want to get up out of the bed and start running around."

On a typical day, Hahn gets up at 7 a.m. and rides with a bicycle and camping gear that weigh about 45 kilograms in total.

He breaks the day into two halves, usually stopping for lunch at a diner, telling his story to fellow patrons. Hahn said he talks to about 10 people daily in rural areas, and many more in large communities.

Planning to donate organs after death — where most transplants come from — is a difficult topic that many simply never broach because it deals with their own mortality, Hahn said.

"If people were more aware and sign up to be donors when they pass away, I think that waiting list (for organs) would be significantly reduced," he said.

According to the latest report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 3,428 people were on the waiting list for kidneys in Canada in 2012, while only 1,358 transplants were performed that year.

And the same year, 84 people on the waiting list died before receiving their kidneys.

Dr. Julian Midgley, national president of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, said donor shortage often stems from lack of information — an opinion underscored by the high donation rates among people who work in the medical field.

A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows organ donation rates among Ontario doctors are about twice those of the general public.

Midgley said doctors, through their work, are often more privy to what those in need of organs are going through.

"They may also be more aware of the issues regarding organ donation," he added. "Some people may not want to donate because they believe in myths: if you're an organ donor, you're more likely not be looked after properly — things like that."

Midgley said the key to getting more donors would be activities that raise awareness such as Hahn's journey — putting organ donation "on the minds of people."

Hahn's trip started June 5 in Tofino, B.C., and is expected to end in September in St. John's, N.L. His journey can be tracked on sparepartstour.com

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