Alonzo Jamison still catches himself looking for his dialysis machine at 6 every night.
It’s hard to believe that he has an extra 10 hours a day, that he can go on holidays with his family, that his quality of life has made a “complete 180” since Shekinah Bailey donated one of his kidneys to Jamison in late January.
An Army veteran, Bailey says his donation wasn’t anything special. Instead, he says it’s what anyone should do if they understand what it costs for an individual and society for someone to spend hours on dialysis.
Jamison, who played basketball for the University of Kansas from 1988-92, went on dialysis about three years ago because of end-stage kidney disease brought on by diabetes. Several people, including his wife, were tested as donors, but doctors couldn’t find a match.
Bailey, 35, lives in Wichita, where he works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In that role, he occasionally works with Jamison’s wife, Colleen Jamison.
One day, Bailey saw an article about Jamison’s need for a kidney posted on Colleen’s Facebook page.
He started to think about the cost of dialysis, both to Jamison and to society, and began to research living donors.
Why are people not lined up to help people out? This is one we can actually cure. We can fix this.
Kidney donor Shekinah Bailey
“Not only is this a bad situation for him for standard of living, but as a society this is a huge drain on our insurance,” Bailey said. “When you start to look at all these different factors, it just hit me in the face that this is a no-brainer. Why are people not lined up to help people out? This is one we can actually cure. We can fix this.”
Like a ‘fairytale’
Nearly 300 people in Kansas are waiting for a kidney donation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nationwide, the number grows to nearly 98,265, more than for any other organ.
Bailey said the greatest sacrifices for the donation are a month for surgery and recovery and not being able to take ibuprofen because certain painkillers reduce blood flow to the kidney.
“There’s 300 people we can dramatically improve their quality of life and take them off this machine,” Bailey said. “Finding 300 donors I think is a doable task.”
Jamison, who lives in Tecumseh, said he still can’t believe that someone he hardly knew was willing to give him a kidney.
You read about these things, and it never happens to you. When it does happen to you, it’s like you’re in a fairytale.
Kidney recipient and former KU basketball player Alonzo Jamison
“You read about these things, and it never happens to you,” Jamison said. “When it does happen to you, it’s like you’re in a fairytale.”
Now, he wants to get the word out about the need for living donors, trying to get others off that waiting list.
Fight for others
Rosina Houle’s sister died three weeks before Bailey donated one of his kidneys to Jamison.
Houle knew she had to meet the two men, to tell Bailey just how much his donation meant.
“When I went in there, I just kept telling myself, just don’t cry, just don’t cry,” said Houle, who founded the nonprofit Save a Life to advocate for living kidney donors after her sister’s donated kidney failed in 2015, putting her on dialysis until her death in 2017.
Houle is working toward the same goal as Bailey and Jamison, trying to find people who think like Bailey. She founded the Lawrence-based organization Save a Life, educating people about organ donation.
When her sister Jessie Esch died, it was after spending 17 years with a kidney donated by their mother. Esch was never able to receive a second kidney, even though 15 to 20 people were tested as donors, including Houle.
People are afraid to donate their organs, but the benefits are immense, Houle said.
“Now my sister’s a statistic,” Houle said. “That’s what my sister is now, but I have to fight for these others. I don’t want anyone to go through an experience like we had to.”
How to help
To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, visit the University of Kansas Health System at www.kumed.com/transplant/kidney/living-donor.