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David Ayres, Zamboni driver and emergency goalie, launches fund for kidney patients

Emergency backup goaltender Dave Ayres #90 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 22, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Emergency backup goaltender Dave Ayres #90 of the Carolina Hurricanes looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 22, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

Two months after he rocketed to fame as an emergency backup goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes, David Ayres is turning that fame toward a good cause.

The 42-year-old has teamed up with the Kidney Foundation of Canada to kick-start an emergency fund to help those with kidney disease get the help they need amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: March 2, 2020: NHL unlikely to change goalie rule that saw Zamboni driver David Ayres hit the ice

For Ayres, the initiative is a deeply personal one.

At the age of 27, around 15 years before he would stun audiences and help the Hurricanes take a crucial 6-3 victory over Toronto, the Zamboni driver, Maple Leafs practice goaltender, and Mattamy Athletic Centre operations manager received a kidney transplant from his mother after being diagnosed with kidney disease.

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I couldn’t see anybody,” Ayres recalled on Friday of his 17-day stint in a hospital intensive care unit early on when he began having kidney problems.

His hospital stay coincided with the SARS outbreak, which would infect 247 people in Canada, half of them health-care workers, and leave 44 dead.

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“You couldn’t tell the difference between who the nurses were that came in,” he told Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock. “They were dressed from head to toe, and all you could see was their eyes covered by goggles… It’s tough when you don’t have anyone there by your side, that you have to, kind of, do it all on your own.

“And I didn’t, at the time, I didn’t really know anything about it either… I just started having kidney issues. So it was tough for sure.”

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Emergency goalie David Ayres supports Green Shirt Day organ donation campaign
Emergency goalie David Ayres supports Green Shirt Day organ donation campaign

When he began dialysis treatments, Ayres had to travel to the hospital three days a week for four hours a day. Luckily, he says, hockey was on during his appointments, and he had family members who could drive him back and forth.

“Dialysis takes a lot out of you,” he said. “So to be able to try and even drive home afterwards… once I kind of got into mine a little more, I was able to do that, but at the beginning, you can’t.”

Many aren’t as fortunate, particularly during a global pandemic that has left an uncertain economic future for many, and transportation options reduced or halted.

READ MORE: Trudeau announces rent relief of 75% for small businesses affected by coronavirus

That’s where the services and programs offered by the Kidney Foundation, and the new emergency fund, come in, Ayres said.

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“They have programs that can help people get back and forth,” he said. “They can help fund a few things for kidney patients that, you know, they obviously need people to donate some money towards the foundation so they can keep up with… especially now.”

The foundation has seen a notable increase in the number of requests being made for peer support and short-term financial assistance to cover medical and other kidney disease-related expenses, said Greg Robbins, the foundation’s national president, in a statement.

“These are core elements of The Foundation’s mission; however, the increased demand comes at a time when donations are down.”

The emergency fund aims to help the foundation respond to the increased demand and continue to offer the services through the pandemic.

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We’re just trying to get as much in, obviously, as possible,” Ayres said. “The requests are coming in pretty hot for some help from all the kidney patients right now, so any money that can be donated would be fantastic.”

No fundraising goal has been set, and the foundation says the first $50,000 in donations will be matched by June and Russ Jones of Ottawa.

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“It could be a dollar. It could be $10,” Ayres said. “It’s all going to go and help families in need.”

More information can be found on the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s website.