Dan Stewart lived with diabetes for 25 years before his kidneys gave out.
During a regular check-up in 2013, tests revealed that the creatinine levels in his blood were high. A doctor told him his kidneys had succumbed to fighting the disease for so long.
Stewart, a Harnett County native who moved to Clayton in 1999, said he started dialysis in March 2014 and had to take a medical leave from his job at BB&T. Last summer, he joined more than 2,700 North Carolinians awaiting kidney transplants.
“The average time someone waits is about seven years,” Stewart said. “If they find a match that is almost identical to yours, you would be bumped to the front of the list.”
While he’s insured and still receives a portion of his BB&T salary, Stewart said the medical bills are making it tough on his family. They are getting by, he said, but his bills are likely to grow once he has surgery.
The National Foundation for Transplants, which is helping Stewart raise money for his medical care, says that while insurance will pay for the transplant itself, Stewart will need follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications. Those treatments, the group says, are as critical to his survival as the transplant
“With transplant patients, they have a lifetime of expenses to stay healthy,” said Emily Joyner, a spokeswoman for the NFT.
On its website, the NFT has set up a page for Stewart where people can donate money for his treatment. Joyner said the money can only go for medical expenses.
“A lot of our patients rely on our website,” Joyner said, adding that each patient has his own page like Stewart. She said some patients also hold 5K races or spaghetti dinners to raise money.
On Stewart’s page, his goal is to raise $25,000. He’s raised about $325 so far.
When he first started taking dialysis, he went to a doctor’s office for treatment three times a week. Today, he takes dialysis every night while he’s sleeping. One medication costs about $50 a month now, and he’s heard that price can increase to $200 or $300 a month after the transplant surgery.
After he learned in 2013 that he would need a transplant, Stewart said one of his BB&T coworkers, Mark Stephens, was a godsend, helping calm his nerves. Stephens had been through dialysis and also received a kidney transplant, Stewart said.
“He said, ‘The first thing I want you to know is this diagnosis is not a death sentence,’ ” Stewart recalled. “He said, ‘You can live a long and productive life after surgery.’ ”
Stewart said he is fortunate to know people like Stephens and others who offered support or donated through the website.
Anyone interested in making a donation to NFT in honor of Stewart can do so at patients.transplants.org/danstewart. Also, donations can also be sent to the NFT North Carolina Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, Tenn. 38119.