Staten Islander seeking a kidney wears T-shirt to find life-saving donor

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — On the eve of Cinco de Mayo, my family and I grabbed a late dinner at one of favorite North Shore restaurants, Adobe Blues, New Brighton. It was late, around 10 p.m., and waiting for my "drunken shrimp" dish, my eyes were drawn to a man wearing an unusual T-shirt.

The shirt was white. "I need a kidney" was emblazoned in bold, black letters. Underneath it, his cell phone number.

When he turned around, written across his back was a plea for anyone reading his billboard-shirt to become a living organ donor. Wow. Just wow. I approached him to ask his story.

His name is Jimi White. He is 69 (turning 70 later this month) and lives in South Beach. He has been on the active kidney transplant list at Columbia Presbyterian for one year.

"I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with kidney problems and over the last few years it evolved into Stage 5," White explained. "As of last May, I am on the active kidney transplant list."

A person with stage 5 CKD (chronic kidney disease) is considered as having end-stage renal disease (ESRD), an advanced stage of kidney disease wherein the kidneys have lost nearly all their ability to do their job effectively.

In these cases, dialysis and/or a kidney transplant is needed to survive.

"Mr. White has stage 5 CKD, from focal sclerosis," said Dr. Judith McLoughlin, of Staten Island Nephrology on Victory Boulevard.

"The treatment modality with the best mortality outcome is a kidney transplant, because it takes longer to get a kidney from a cadaver donor," she added.

According to White, the waiting period in New York for a cadaver kidney is six to eight years.

Earlier this year, White, a retired insurance agent/consultant, underwent a two-stage surgery to have an AV fistula, which directly connects an artery and vein.

An AV fistula causes extra pressure and extra blood to flow into the vein, making it grow large and strong. The larger vein provides easy, reliable access to blood vessels. Without this kind of access, White cannot undergo regular hemodialysis.

"Last week was my first three sessions of dialysis," said White, "I go three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. each session."

About the T-shirt

White got the idea of wearing a T-shirt to publicly seek a living kidney donor from reading a story of a man who wore a similar shirt in Disney World last year. Someone posted it on social media, and it soon it went viral. He ultimately found a match.

"My girlfriend, Janet Rispoli, got the T-shirts made up, one with black lettering and one with red," said White. "Whenever I’ve gone to social events the last year, I wear it."

The waiting continues

As White waits for a kidney donor, he suffers from extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. Admittedly, he cannot do many physical activities.

"I get easily winded," he said. "It appears the kidneys pass on functions to the lungs and they cannot filter or process the fluids. My doctors tell me dialysis will help."

White is also suffering from insomnia, and recently suffered from severe body itching due to phosphorus, which has now subsided.

In patients with renal disease, unmanaged high levels of phosphorus in the blood binds with calcium and can lead to feeling itchy. Sometimes too little or too much dialysis can lead to dry, itchy skin.

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