By Perry Lefko
When Chetan Gandhi decided to give up one of his kidneys to his father who needed a transplant, he wanted to put himself in the best physical condition. Through Wongmania, the strength and conditioning class headed up Steven J. Wong, Chetan found a way to substantially raise his fitness level and strengthen his mental toughness.
Back in December, Chetan, a 39-year-old who works as a regional talent acquisition specialist, found out his blood type matched perfectly with his 63-year-old father, Mahendra, who had been diagnosed with kidney failure in January, 2013 and had been on dialysis three times a week for fours a day. He had been placed on a waiting list for a new kidney donor, but was told it could take up to 10 years to find a donor that matched his blood type.
While the chances of finding a matching donor are better with a family member, it takes about six months of tests to make sure there is compatibility. Chatan’s mother had complications due to her age. Chetan has a sister, who is married and has a child, but he didn’t want her to do it because there is always a risk with surgery, both during the operation and the followup period. Chetan wanted to be the donor if his blood type matched.
“I don’t think it’s a sacrifice,” he said this past Sunday following another spirited Wongmania workout at Xtreme Couture. “My background is East Indian, and you don’t even think twice, especially when it’s your family member or your parents. It’s the right thing to do. I never thought twice that it would be a hazard to my health. When he was diagnosed, I thought ‘He’s my Dad and I want to see him around for awhile.’ There was never a question I wasn’t going to do it.”
Once it was discovered he had a matching blood type, Chetan had monthly checkups to ensure there would be no complications in the surgery.
“Even though we were both the same blood type, sometimes there are things that happen and his body can possibly reject my kidney,” Chetan said.
He wanted to improve his fitness level to put himself in the back physical shape for the surgery and the recovery period afterward.
“I had to get myself in really, really top shape,” Chetan said. “I had been working out already, but all it takes is one little thing to not be eligible to be a kidney donor. I needed to top off my fitness level to where I would feel great going into the surgery and there’s no complications.”
He heard about a strength and conditioning class headed up by instructor Steven J. Wong. The class, which became known as Wongmania, concentrates on core fitness and cardio with exercises that include running, box jumping, squats, pushups, skipping, pull-ups, lunges and assorted other elements. They are done rapidly and in short spurts. When Chetan started doing Wongmania, he found himself winded, but gradually that improved and he raised his cardiovascular level substantially.
“It was very challenging, and that’s what I was looking for,” he said. “I needed a little bit of a change in my fitness level. I felt it took my fitness to the highest level I could have done. It was a great experience. The only time I felt like this was playing competitive baseball in high school. I felt like I was in my early teens again. It was great to push myself to the limit that your body can take you to. The reason I pushed it is because I knew I had to do this for my Dad and I was focused.
“There were times I wanted to give up in different things we were doing, but I just closed my eyes and focused on this goal that I had to do and wanted to achieve.”
The conditioning helped him to have an “amazing” season playing baseball, but he had to cut it short within about six weeks of the surgery.
“I didn’t want to be too physically strained going into the surgery, which I was advised to do,” he said.
Coincidentally, Steven suspended his classes for the summer to take Wongmania on tour and did seminars, appearances and certifications across Canada. He also trained some elite NHL hockey players on a 3 week East coast stint.
“I thanked Steven for allowing me to be part of this because I had been on my journey,” Chetan said. “Every single person in the class had a story and they were doing it for different reasons. I had my story, but I didn’t want to brag it. But in the end I did want to thank Steven. The people that were in the class were so motivated. I saw people push themselves to the limit and it was an encouragement that everyone helped each other and pushed each other even though you felt like you couldn’t do it anymore. That was great. That’s what I needed. It was more of a feeling inside where you kept on going.”
He had the surgery on August 20, and was released from hospital three days later.
“I have five different incisions on my stomach, and the small ones healed within a week and the big one above my pelvic healed within two weeks,” he said. “For some people it takes a little bit longer because the scars are big, but I was in good shape from going to Wongmania and Goodlife Fitness.”
When Steven re-started the Wongmania classes in October, Chetan came back.
“I think it’s contagious,” he said. “Once you do that, you want more and more of it. It allowed me to be in great physical shape and now I’m living with one kidney. You can function with one kidney. Obviously you’ve got to watch what you eat and stuff like that and live a normal life. Sometimes you can’t do all the things you were doing before. The reason I’m doing this is I want to prove that you can do all the things you want to and you can be in that elite shape again with just one kidney. People don’t push themselves as much as they want to once they have surgery and stuff like that, and that’s what I want to tell people about. The human body is an amazing thing. You just have to go out there and do it.
“You can do whatever you want with one kidney. You can lead an amazing life. You can be an elite athlete, and that’s why I keep pushing myself every single day to let people know you can do this. I want to make sure I’m living a healthier life and allow myself one day a week to see how far I can go.
“That’s why I wanted to do the class again, and in a way it’s to say thank you to Steven and all the people that were there in the class, keeping me motivated in different level, whether it would be emotionally, spiritually or physically. It’s the kind of gift not a lot of people can get. Yeah, his ways of doing things are a little bit aggressive, but once you get into it you definitely find out what it’s for. That’s one of the reasons why I keep coming here. I felt it was my fitness family.”
Perry Lefko is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author living in Mississauga. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years, including 21 for the Toronto Sun, in which he was a runnerup twice for the Dunlop Award for outstanding sports writing in the Sun Media Newspaper chain, and voted writer of the year by the Ontario Curling Association. He has also had articles published in The Toronto Star, Trot Magazine and is currently a frequently contributor to Goodlife Mississauga Magazine and Goodlife Brampton Magazine. He is also a contributor to Sportsnet.ca. He writes about sports, health and fitness, business, entertainment, arts and politics. He is passionate about writing personality profiles, in particular the human condition and overcoming the odds. He has had seven books published, including two that were national bestsellers: Sandra Schmirler, The Queen of Curling; and Bret Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. He has also written books about Doug Flutie, Michael (Pinball) Clemons and Sandy Hawley. He has been contracted by Penguin Publishing to help broadcaster/athlete Colleen Jones write her life story. He also reviews books for Quill and Quire Magazine. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.