Winthrop pack unite to help dog-walking friend


Shaun Johnson with his dog Theo, Ivan and Jo Visic with dogs Harvey and Panda, and Sheila and Marcus Defries with dogs Mabel and Ernie. Picture: Martin Kennealey d472228
Shaun Johnson with his dog Theo, Ivan and Jo Visic with dogs Harvey and Panda, and Sheila and Marcus Defries with dogs Mabel and Ernie. Picture: Martin Kennealey d472228

A GROUP of Winthrop dog-walkers who formed fast friendships over their canine companions are now uniting to help one of their own wolf pack.

After developing the extremely rare kidney disease glomerulonephritis, Shaun Johnson received a transplant in 1999.

His new kidney failed 15 years later in 2014 and he has required three four-hour dialysis sessions each week since then as he awaits a new donor.

Mr Johnson is a volunteer with both Transplant Australia and the Kidney Foundation and when he brought up the Big Red Kidney Walk he is helping to organise, his neighbours jumped at the opportunity to become involved.

One of those neighbours, Ivan Visic, said the group of around 20 dog-walkers had recognised each other as regulars at Robert Smith Park for years before eventually forging friendships.

“I’ve lived here for 27 years and there are some people that have been living in the suburb for over 30 years and apart from the occasional passing hello we didn’t really interact with one another until recently,” Mr Visic said.

“Now we’ve celebrated the past Christmas, Easter and Australia Day in the park, and there are 12 of us that go to dinner together every couple of months, with probably another dozen who regularly meet at Robert Smith.”

Mr Visic’s wife Jo said the neighbourhood’s dogs, who are much more forthcoming when it comes to introductions, were responsible for bringing the community together.

Around a dozen Winthrop residents and their dogs will join Mr Johnson in the Big Red Kidney Walk on the Victoria Park foreshore on September 10.

Walkers make a donation to take part and the event is designed to raise both awareness of the importance of organ donation and funding for research into kidney disease.

Although Mr Johnson’s condition is rare, kidney failure related to diabetes is on the rise in Australia, increasing demand for donors.

“Only 15 per cent of the Australian population has A Negative blood like me and because I’ve had a transplant before, I’ve got the other person’s antibodies too which makes it difficult to find a donor,” he said.

“What we’re really trying to do is encourage people to speak about organ donation with their whole family, not just their next of kin.”

The Federal Government now offers up to nine weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage to anyone who becomes a living organ donor.

For more information or to donate, visit kidney.org au/walk.

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