By Michelle Baker
Kristen Smith’s day job is taking care of her classroom of first graders at Glenkirk Elementary in Gainesville.
Her other full-time job is taking care of her new husband and infant in Warrenton.
This permanent job entails the usual — cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the house.
However, that role of mother and wife includes being part-time life coach and full-time publicist as she tries valiantly to find a kidney for her 34-year-old husband, Kevin. Kevin Smith suffers from Berger’s disease also called IgA nephropathy, a kidney disorder in which antibodies to a protein called IgA build up in kidney tissue. On a recent visit, doctors at Inova Fairfax Hospital recently gave him some disheartening news.
“They told him right now, he has about three of four months that they can keep his kidney functioning,” said Kristen, who has launched a campaign to save her man. Growing up in Manassas with his three siblings and his single mom, Kevin said he didn’t know he had Berger’s disease. He said doctors think he may have suffered from it for years before they caught it at age 28.
The Stonewall Jackson High School grad said “two weeks later, I was on dialysis.”
Working with UVA Hospital, the young man waited for a kidney donor.
A Times-Democrat article published on Nov. 3, 2004, titled “Victim of rare disease waits for kidney donor” changed his life forever.
An anonymous donor read that article and made a life-altering phone call. A year later in December 2005, the woman with the type O positive kidney gave him a special gift and a new lease on life.
“The person who donated the kidney was the first person to call in and the first to get tested,” said Kevin, who hopes perhaps this article could do the same.
Living with a chronic condition takes a toll on the patient as well as family members. Doctor visits and doctor bills mount up. Time off from work means less pay.
Kevin knows first hand how important a strong support network is to surviving.
“My first marriage ended because of my kidney disease,” he said.
In February, Kevin and Kristen tied the knot and began their life together for better or worse.
The couple, who met online, hopes the Web continues to bring them together.
“Please help Kevin find a kidney” implores Kristen to anyone listening and to those in cyberspace.
Knowing time is of the essence, this young mother and wife has transformed into a multi-media savvy promoter whose job it is to find a match for her husband and friend.
She contacted local newspapers, asked professional contacts for help, and developed a community Facebook page, “Kevin Needs a Kidney,” to try to find that perfect match to save the father of her 4-monthold daughter, Kalysta, and her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Montanna, who lives with them every other week.
A visit to the Facebook page, http://facebook.com/KeviNeedsaKidney
, gives one a glimpse into their tiny family.
On the page, she shares about how “Kevin, a loving husband and amazing father of two beautiful girls,” has recently found out he is in urgent need of a kidney transplant.
Because no one in his family matches, he needs help in finding a Type O donor between the ages of 18-60 who is in reasonably good health.
Only 7 percent of people in the U.S have the O-negative blood type according to the American Red Cross. O-negative donors are universal donors because their blood can be given to people of all blood types.
The Red Cross states that 45 percent of people in the U.S. have Type O (positive or negative) blood. Type O is most prevalent among hispanics (57 percent) and African Americans (51 percent).
Inova has a kidney exchange program that allows people with other blood types to donate a kidney even if they are not Type O. If another pair in the same situation is found, Inova will arrange a swap between the patients.
The advantages to having a living donors are huge. There is a better success rate since they come from healthy people who are in better condition, there is more time to prepare for surgery mentally, and there is a shorter waiting time.
Typically, there is a four- to seven-year wait for a deceased kidney from the UNOS list. According to Inova, each year one out of 20 people waiting for a kidney dies from kidney disease while on dialysis.
Lisa Gilkerson, principal at Glenkirk Elementary, joined the Smith support team by posting information on the school’s home page.
“Kristen Smith has taught here at Glenkirk for the last five years and our hearts are with her as she and Kevin face this hardship,” said Gilkerson.
“Glenkirk is like a family and we never want to see those we love go through these difficulties so we have high hopes and lots of prayers that a donor will be found soon for Kevin,” she said.
Returning to work after her maternity leave, Kristen said she found her entire school supportive.
Kevin recently found out he needs a transplant within the next few months due to the kidney rejection of the previous transplant. Because neither his mom, Nina Stuckey of Warrenton, or other family members match his rare O-negative blood type, the Inova transplant team suggested the Smith family begin a campaign to find a living donor.
“The doctors have tried numerous changes in medications and are unable to save this kidney,” Kristen said. “Due to the rejection, he is currently on disability from his job and struggling to take care of our 4-month-old daughter during the day while I am at work.”
“Because of the extensive medical bills and his decrease in pay, we are unable to pay most of our bills, let alone pay for our daughter to be in day care at this time,” she openly admits.
Kevin has worked as a field technician for Comcast for the last three years and his insurance there will cover all medical expenses of the donor.
“There is no cure,” said Kevin. “Every transplant just gives me more time — that’s all I ask for.”
Kristen Smith helps organize husband Kevin's medicines once a week. He take about 20 pills each day while awaiting a kidney transplant. Photo by Randy Litzinger