Wichita man, 23, optimistic he will get healthy kidney

Jayden Fleming, 23, is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. His mother, Joi Lee, a nurse, was recently laid off, affecting the family’s health insurance. She is starting a fund to help pay for the costs of the transplant. (Dec. 16, 2014)
Jayden Fleming, 23, is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. His mother, Joi Lee, a nurse, was recently laid off, affecting the family’s health insurance. She is starting a fund to help pay for the costs of the transplant. (Dec. 16, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Like clockwork, three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – Jayden Fleming receives dialysis.

It isn’t a comfortable process.

It’s four hours of sitting each time, waiting for a machine to slowly filter out waste and excess water from his blood because his right kidney doesn’t work.

Despite having to take a break from school and work and move back to Wichita from Dallas for treatments, the 23-year-old is remarkably optimistic.

“Even when something does hit hard like this, it doesn’t mean it’s over,” Fleming says.

“It’s just something you’ve got to go through. It makes your Lifetime movie a little better.”

Two years ago, while going to school in Dallas, Fleming was diagnosed with hypertension and was in a hospital intensive care unit for six days.

It was a wake-up call for him to take charge of his health. Since then, he’s lost nearly 100 pounds through diet and exercise.

After taking those steps, “we thought we were out of the red, basically,” said his mom, Joi Lee, a registered nurse.

Then in July, after about a month of feeling lightheaded and having dry, itchy skin and a metal taste in his mouth, Fleming was told by a doctor that he needed to immediately go on dialysis. He had end-stage kidney failure.

So in September, he came home to Wichita for treatment.

Then at Thanksgiving, the family learned of another hurdle it would have to face: Joi was getting downsized from her job and would lose the family’s health insurance.

“As a mother, it’s definitely had its burden on me. No one wants to see their child suffer in any way. With me being in the medical field, knowing how serious this is, this is do or die,” Lee said.

“It’s just a test. It’s our season. And it will pass. There’s a reason for everything that God does. We don’t always know it or understand it, but I know he’s got his best interest in us.”

The price tag for a new kidney – without insurance paying any of it – is nearly $300,000 at Integris Baptist in Oklahoma City, where Fleming’s family is planning for him to receive a transplant, Lee said.

And that doesn’t include the thousands of dollars in medication Fleming will have to take for several months after the transplant.

COBRA continuation health insurance coverage would cost the family $1,200 a month, nearly triple what they used to pay for insurance. Lee says they’re looking at all options for coverage.

“Every angle, we’re taking it,” she said.

The family has set up the Jayden Fleming Transplant Account with the Fidelity Bank branch at 7711 E. Harry to help cover costs.

Kidney failure is usually permanent and requires dialysis for life, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In 2013, 4,453 patients in the U.S. died while waiting for a kidney transplant. About 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month.

More than 101,901 people are registered in the United States for a kidney transplant, more than for any other organ, according to Department of Health and Human Services data.

Fleming is on a transplant list, and his aunt is undergoing testing to see whether she is a match to be a living donor. Friends have also offered their kidneys if they are found to be a match.

The family is hopeful his aunt will be a match and that they can proceed with a transplant early in 2015.

But Fleming has also thought about the possibility of being on dialysis for the long haul.

“With me being so young, compared to other patients on dialysis, it was an eye-opener. You walk in and you see what dialysis looks like. A part of you is fearful. A part of you is hopeful,” he said.

“I’m young, so I’ll probably get on the list faster, and I’m in otherwise good health, so this is temporary. But on the other hand, this is also what it’s going to look like if you don’t get a transplant. What if this isn’t temporary and this is life now?”

Fleming is trying to look at his time in Wichita for treatments as a pit stop – a chance to spend time with family but also a time to plan for the future.

The 2009 graduate of Northeast Magnet wants to get back to school at Richland College and pursue a career in fashion. He already works to design and market clothes for Mars Mansion, an urbanwear brand that he helped start.

“I try to find inspiration anywhere I can,” Fleming said.

His motto is a pun on his blood type.

“I’m encouraging everyone to think positive – O positive.”

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

To donate

Make donations to the Jayden Fleming Transplant Account at Fidelity Bank, 7711 E. Harry. Or contact Joi Lee at 316-650-5765.