Dinos basketball player gets second chance on and off the court after heart transplant

The future seemed set for Dylan Kalambay. By the time he reached his mid-teens, the basketball prodigy from Brampton, Ontario. traveled to China and Italy with Team Canada and caught the eye of Division I universities in the United States.

Then, in the fall of 2019, a nagging cough started to get worse.

« There was a game where I just couldn’t play because it was too much, » Kalambay said.

« They did some vital signs and that’s when they realized my resting heart rate was around 200 beats per minute. That’s when they were like, ‘Okay, well, that’s not normal, we have to take you to the hospital.’

After a seemingly endless walk to clinics across the province, the 16-year-old finally heard the words that would change everything: Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

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The disease slowly stretched Kalambay’s heart muscles, making them thinner and unable to pump blood efficiently.

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He soon underwent surgery to install a left ventricular assist device, but the procedure had no significant impact and his name was put on the waiting list for organ donation.

“There was no way to really sugar coat it. There was a very strong possibility that I wouldn’t play basketball anymore and hearing that stuff crushed me,” Kalambay recalled. “By then, basketball had become a pretty big part of my identity. I think hearing it was quite difficult, just because I felt like I was losing a part of myself.

Five months later, Kalambay got the call – a heart and an operating room were waiting for him.

In the days and weeks following the procedure, he nearly collapsed from exhaustion just walking around a room, but he made no secret of his ultimate goal.

« After every cardio session I had to be taken out just because I was so tired, » Kalambay said. “Eventually it felt like I could do this. Then I was able to return to the car. Small steps like this just got a whole lot easier. And then finally it was like, ‘Okay, well, I need to start working on my basketball skills’. So I was going to train, I was trying to find open gyms – even outside, I was just going to shoot.

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Nine months later, Kalambay went from barely walking to backing off the basketball court for a game at Ridley College, a private prep school in St. Catharines.

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse heard about Kalambay’s story and came to see him play. Across the country, the University of Calgary Dinos have shown renewed interest in this determined athlete.

Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren toured Kalambay around the city and introduced him to potential teammates.

After a team training session, veteran Ezoah Santiago approached Van Hooren and urged him to take on Kalambay.

« There’s a smoothness to his movement and his athleticism that I think can really shine through as we lean into his body and develop a skill set, » Van Hooren said. « When you study a guy like Dylan, I think you’re looking at a player who brings maturity, brings a fresh perspective, has natural athleticism and really the sky is the limit. The question just becomes, how much can we pushing him? And what is this balancing act with his heart? »

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Now in his rookie season with the Dinos, Kalambay feels he has found balance in listening to his body, knowing when to push himself and communicating with the team’s medical staff.

Although he is considered one of the key elements in rebuilding the Dinos, some things will always be different for Kalambay.

He will take medication for the rest of his life to prevent his body from rejecting the transplanted heart. He needs to extend his warm-ups to slowly increase his heart rate before a game.

But when the going gets tough, he remembers what had to happen to get there.

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Kalambay caught up with Logan Boulet’s family in Lethbridge last week to learn more about the other side of organ donation and to share his wish to one day meet the family of the person who gave him a new chance in life. .

« I want to be able to do good for the person who lost their life in order to save mine, » Kalambay said.

« I think it’s something that will always be on my mind no matter what I do. I want to make sure they’ll be proud of me – if we ever meet.

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« I think being an organ donor is one of the bravest things you can do and I think if you’re willing and able it’s something you should do. »

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