A sign to save a life: Family hopes billboard campaign will find kidney donor

Coronavirus complicates a former football player's search for a kidney donor

Billboard campaign for a kidney

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Jason Smith is a tough guy. He played football for Huffman High school, and then went on to play for Vanderbilt.

But now, he’s waiting on someone else to be tough. He is looking for a living kidney donor.

“It’s humbled me in a lot of ways. Football teaches you even at the little league level, if you get hurt or you get tired you can keep going,” Smith says as he talks about the exhaustion following his three day a week dialysis treatments.

billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation
billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation (Source: jason smith)

He was diagnosed 4 years ago with end-stage renal disease. He says he had not been feeling well for a while, but when we finally we to get check out, he was already in stage five.

“They put in the hospital right away and started dialysis two days later,” says Smith.

He’s youngest son, was just a year old at the time.

“My 5 and 8 year old really only know me on dialysis,” says Smith. “They remember me doing dialysis at home or the hospital. ‘Daddy has had treatment’ they say.”

Those children, his wife and teenager daughter, are what keep him tough now, and full of hope.

billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation
billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation (Source: jason smith)

“It’s humbled me. Sometimes maybe I need to sit down for a minute. Even if it’s just a few minutes,” he says.

He is on the waiting list for three hospitals, and is ready to go a moment’s notice if a kidney becomes available.

“There’s two way to get a kidney, one is the deceased donor list, but the preferable way is a living donor,” explains smith. “With a living donor you are able to set a time that is convenient for the donor. It’s kind of like having a baby because your water broke versus scheduling an induction. We have our bags packed and are ready to go,” he says with a smile.

Coronavirus has only complicated the process though.

“It’s been hard. I am concerned because even it I was asymptomatic and had covid. If I get a call for a kidney they will do a covid test and if I have covid, even if I have no symptoms, that will rule me out from getting a kidney. So I have to be extra careful about that,” says Smith.

Dialysis makes him tired, but he tries to stay active. Until the pandemic, he continued to go to the gym.

“I try to keep myself in the best shape I can, so when it is time for transplant, the better shape I am in, the better the recovery,” he says.

Several people have offered to donate, but after the extensive testing at UAB, found out they weren’t able to.

“They were more disappointed than me,” says Smith. “If there was ever a time when it’s the thought that counts, this really is it!”

“It’s a little overwhelming, we are very thankful. I am sure my kids would love to not have me a dialysis three days a week. "

billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation
billboard campaign to raise awareness about kidney donation (Source: jason smith)

There’s now a billboard and bumper sticker campaign to try to find the perfect match. Smith hopes that it raises awareness about the need for living donors, and if not for him, for someone else.

“Donating one person’s kidney can help a long chain of helping a person and another person,” He says “We were given two, so it’s ok to share your spare.”

Right now there are over 100,000 people across the country waiting for a kidney.

If you are interested in being a living donor, give the UAB donor hotline a call at 888-822-7892.

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