Defenseman was the captain for the co-cop Cobras, graduated from Bremen High School
By Ross Forman – The past five years have been a struggle, at best, for Danny Oganovich, a three-year varsity player for the co-op Cobras Hockey Team and a 2019 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, where he lives.
It all started when he drank a knock-off red Gatorade at school, he said.
He had lower abdominal pain and doctors told him he had kidney issues. He was diagnosed with kidney disease early in his sophomore year after blood tests came back abnormal.
“It was my sophomore year and I had just found out that I made the varsity team; I was psyched and couldn’t wait for the season; we had a great team,” said Oganovich, who skated for the Cobras JV team as a freshman and was a varsity newcomer on defense as a sophomore.
“I had a nephrologist (kidney doctor) appointment and thought it was just going to be another routine check-up because some of my numbers were slightly elevated; I thought I was just going to be told to watch what I eat.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“When I got to the appointment, it started like every appointment, with the medical staff checking my vitals and some small talk. Then, the doctor hit me and my family with the news that my numbers had gotten worse and we needed to start thinking about getting a kidney transplant. When I heard those words, it felt like the room was closing in on me. It felt like my life was over. I couldn’t breathe; my chest felt tight; I was terrified. I asked how much time I had before I needed it, and he said that I wouldn’t be able to walk across the stage for graduation or finish my time playing for the Cobras.
“I had no idea what I was going to do.”
What he did was, he prayed, often. “Jesus is the only reason, along with my family, I’m getting through,” Oganovich said.
Oganovich, who skated for the Homewood Flossmoor Vikings before the Cobras, was devastated when he heard the diagnosis. “My dreams of playing any college sport was out of the picture because my body wouldn’t allow it. It was like my body was fighting against me and I was losing,” he said.
Doctors told Oganovich he immediately needed to change his diet, which he did through an all-natural dietician, and for the next couple years, he didn’t need any treatment.
“I went from eating anything I wanted to eating only vegan, all organic fruits and vegetables, and a lot of healing herbs,” he said. “Do you know how hard it was to go out to eat with friends and have to get a salad while everyone else got wings or a burger? It was difficult. But this diet that the Lord brought into our lives got me extra years of feeling great.”
Until his ailing kidneys just couldn’t take it anymore, he said. That was last July, which he tagged as a “terrible” month. His kidneys were functioning at less than 20 percent and he couldn’t get a transplant because he didn’t have any living donors and he was not on the top of the deceased donor list.
His only option was dialysis. Specifically, PD dialysis, otherwise known as peritoneal dialysis. “This is where they insert a tube/catheter into my stomach directly into my peritoneum cavity which would hook up to a machine and clean my blood,” he explained. “The only thing was, I would need surgery to get the tube/catheter placed in.
“I was so angry I had to get this done, especially when I woke up from the surgery because I was in pain and now had a tube hanging out of my stomach. I just wanted to go home. I even tried to get up as soon as I woke up and tried to walk, but my body put me right back down. My body was fighting against me. When I finally healed from the surgery, it was time to start dialysis training, daily for two weeks for 4 to 5 hours. It hurt so bad at first, but then the pain turned to discomfort to now, unfortunately, it’s my normal and it only hurts during certain cycles.”
Oganovich learned before graduating that his kidneys slipped to stage 5 – renal failure, the end stage of kidney function.
“When I was told I wouldn’t finish hockey or high school without a transplant, I was so terrified and sad. All I wanted to do was play hockey; it was my escape from everything; I wasn’t worried about anything when I was on the ice and I felt like I was getting that taken from me,” he said. “My junior and senior year, I was so nervous because I thought every game could be my last because I didn’t know when my kidneys would give out and I wouldn’t be able to play anymore, but I’m so blessed that the Lord held my kidneys and let me finish my career. This also pushed me harder each game because it truly could have been my last, so every single shift I gave it my all.”
Oganovich, now 20, with his college life on hold, works a couple days a week at renowned BBQ restaurant Hog Wild in Midlothian. He does dialysis every night for nine hours. He also endures excruciating headaches from his blood pressure being high at times.
He’s anxious for winter to break so he can enter fishing tournaments.
Fishing, particularly bass fishing, is his outlet since he can’t play hockey anymore.
And he waits for a transplant.
“I’m ready to wrap this up because I know the Lord has great, big plans for my life and I trust His timing,” Oganovich said. “Some days I feel fine, like normal, besides the tube around my waist. But some days I get pounding headaches and throw up because my blood pressure is so high. I can’t escape the pain when I’m sleeping because I have to deal with the discomfort and pain from the machine that I’m hooked up to while I try to sleep, which is already minimal.”
Every morning, Oganovich wakes and immediately confirms that the dialysis is complete. Then he checks his vital signs, followed by his first blood pressure medicine.
“After eating breakfast, I must take three pills, known as binders. I have to take these binders every time I eat, snacks included,” he said. His afternoons include more medication, every day. And he must drink enough water, so he doesn’t get cramps later in the day.
After dinner, he takes more medication.
Oganovich takes 20 to 30 pills every day.
“A new kidney for me would mean so much … it would give me my life back … I could be a kid again, enjoy the summers at the lake, or at the pool, or just relax in the bathtub. I could just wake up and start my day and not have to worry about sterilizing my hands to disconnect from my dialysis machine,” Oganovich said. “I would be able to eat whatever I want without having to take 2-3 pills every time I eat something. It would give me a sense of normalcy again.
“If I don’t get a transplant, I will just remain on dialysis till it doesn’t work anymore and then, unfortunately, I would die because there would be no way to cleanse my blood any longer. The good Lord and dialysis are keeping me alive. Unless the Lord decides to heal me, I will need a transplant to live.”
Oganovich is looking for a live donor, particularly at his age, as a live kidney donor would last longer and is healthier, and, it would adapt easily to his body.
Oganovich now just waits, wanting to resume the life of a 20-something, starting with college.
“The hockey community has done so much for me and I’m so thankful and blessed with everyone who cares so much about me. They have checked in on me, shared my story and just been there for me,” said Oganovich, whose first tattoo was ‘Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’
Oganovich remains motivated, driven and tries to be as upbeat as possible – as he waits. He wants the thrill of a hockey victory on the medical front. After all, he was the Cobras player who hated to lose and always pushed his teammates to do what’s best and give it their all for the team.
** For more about on Danny Oganovich, including information on being a living donor, go to: www.facebook.com/livingkidneydonorfordanny.**
**Photos Courtesy of Danny Oganovich**
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.