When the Hero Needs a Hero

Behind the podcast: Find out how community hero John Kachanuk receives an unexpected gift from two tissue donors, his heroes, in the latest Let’s Talk Hope podcast at letstalkhopepodcast.com or wherever you find your podcasts.

Firefighter John Kachanuk has a long history of being a local hero. When he retires this November, he will have served 36 years with the Havana Fire Department in central Illinois. John is president of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association and serves as an on-call volunteer fire chief. Not only does he save lives in his professional career, he also saves lives off the clock as an advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation.

John had always lifted heavy weights to keep fit for his physically demanding job. He was an ambitious weightlifter and progressed to higher and higher weights. During one workout, John reached his limit. He was doing squats while lifting 370 pounds. When he stood up, he leaned to one side which caused a disc to bulge out of his spine. From that moment forward, John’s life would never be the same.

John spent the next 14 years managing the severe pain that affected every aspect of his life. “You don’t understand how painful it is because it affects not only your physical being, but your mental being and also your livelihood,” he says. When the pain started to manage him, he underwent spinal fusion surgery. The surgery would be another turning point in his life; for the first time in a long time, John was living pain-free.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling!” John recalls. While on the road to recovery, he noticed a paper in his post operation folder that congratulated him on receiving the gift of life through human tissue donation. He was surprised that a donor’s tissue had been used in his surgery. He reached out to the tissue bank Allosource to learn more and about the two donors and their role in his life-changing surgery.

John now speaks at events throughout Illinois and across the United States encouraging everyone he meets to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. When he is thanked for inspiring others, John’s message is a one of gratitude: “Thank the donors…the donors are what put me here to be the mechanism, to spread the word.”

John has also honored his tissue donors by competing in the annual Transplant Games of America and is a five-time medalist. He returned to an active lifestyle, getting back to activities he loves. Kachanuk keeps in touch with his donors’ families, “because without them, I would have never done what I’m doing now.”

Listen to John’s complete story on our Let’s Talk Hope podcast at letstalkhope.com.

Register your decision today to become an organ, eye and tissue donor. Talk with your family and friends about your decision to donate life.