In May 1989, Kevin Smith was 29, married with three daughters and a musician in Los Angeles when he went entered the emergency room at Harbor General UCLA Medical Center. His blood pressure was 322/218, and he had been suffering from severe headaches, blurred vision and nausea.
He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, a tumor that causes the adrenal glands to produce high levels of hormones and raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate. Kevin was told that his long-term hypertension had caused his kidneys to shrink. “What I wasn’t told, and later found out, was that this often leads to kidney failure,” he said.
Kevin moved to Illinois to be near his family and its support system. Soon after the move, he had another major episode and was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was given emergency dialysis for five days to get stabilized. Then he started routine dialysis and went on the kidney transplant list.
Almost two years later, a donor kidney became available, and he had a kidney transplant. But major complications ensued. That led to seven more operations and, eventually, organ rejection. “I went back on dialysis, and it took several months until I was healthy enough to be placed back on the transplant waiting list,” he said.
His waiting time was anything but unproductive. During his time on dialysis, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Then, in 1994, he received another call and went to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield for a successful kidney transplant.
It has been more than 18 years since his transplant, and everything today is good. “I’m working in education with at-risk children, I’m still playing music and, most wonderful of all, I’m spending time with my three daughters and five grandchildren,” Kevin said.
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