Wearing a Carolina jacket, a walkie-talkie in hand, glasses and a smile on his face, Stephon Goode walked down the halls of Smith Middle School and greeted students.
“Mr. Goode!” they shouted when they saw him. “How are you?”
Some stopped to hug him, pushing past each other as if they hadn’t seen him in years. Others shook his hand, gave him a high-five or a fist bump. They told him funny stories and laughed with him.
Goode, 41, said he loves being assistant principal at Smith. A former fifth-grade teacher at Estes Hills Elementary School, Goode smiles and likes to make students laugh. He has two children of his own: a daughter 17 and another 2.
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“I’m really blessed to be here,” he said. “I absolutely love getting to know the kids.”
He looks energetic, but his failing kidneys make him tired every minute of the day. Two years ago, Goode was diagnosed with end stage renal disease. With 16 percent kidney function, Goode will soon need a kidney transplant to survive.
Despite his illness, he remains happy.
At Smith’s final football game Nov. 5, the PTA held a bake sale and the booster club invited food trucks whose proceeds went to Goode’s operation.
The game was packed. Many old friends and former colleagues came to support him.
Avery Tyson, an eighth-grade student, and her mother bought green wrist bands that say “It’s all Goode,” and sold them for $2 each.
“He’s such a good teacher and caring, and everyone loves him,” Tyson said. “He deserves it. He goes all the way for his job.”
Goode’s surgery and first year of care will cost about $260,000. His insurance will cover about $210,000 of it, leaving him with $50,000 to pay.
As of Sunday, Goode had raised $18,000 of his $25,000 goal.
30 pills a day
He has 15 doctors. He takes 30 pills and one shot a day. And blood tests every other day monitor his kidney function.
Doctors still don’t know what has caused the kidney damage, Goode said.
When Brenda Goode found out her husband needed a kidney transplant a few years ago, she didn’t worry much. All of his eight siblings volunteered to donate their kidneys so he didn’t have to be on the wait on a list. His oldest sister, Donna Ledbetter, was a match.
From there, Brenda Goode, a clinical researcher at Duke, said she knew everything would be all right.
She looked at her husband and told him, “We’re going to figure out a way to make it through everything.”
“It was just a matter of getting through this obstacle,” Brenda said. “He’s my heart and I’ll do anything for him.”
Brenda said her faith in God, and the support from friends and the school has helped them get through.
“We’re just humbled with all the support he’s getting from the school,” she said during the football game. “We’re definitely not doing this by ourselves.”
For a year, Goode said, it’s felt like he’s been running up and down stairs all day.
“I don’t really know what feeling great feels like anymore,” he said. “There have been days where I have had to come in and just sit down and take a breath.”
He expects he’ll need the surgery in June, the same month his oldest daughter graduates from high school.
His body could reject his sister’s kidney, even though they are a match.
“A lot of kidneys will what they call ‘go to sleep,’” he said. “When you have the transplant, it takes a few days for it to start functioning. So even for those few days you’re going to be on dialysis until it starts functioning.”
If his body rejects the kidney, he said, he will be on the waiting list for another one. More than 3,000 people in the U.S. join the list each month, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
But Goode said he isn’t worried about himself.
The hardest part is thinking about what his children would have to go through without a father.
“I have one daughter going off to college. I have one in day care and it’s beautiful. Those are the things you plan for,” he said. “But you don’t plan for a kidney transplant.”
He said he may end up missing college visits or missing graduation if things go wrong between now and then.
He won’t be able to toss his youngest daughter in the air as she loves or chase her around the house when she wants to play.
“She needs a lot of love and attention. And she’s all about daddy,” he said with his head down and tears streaming down his face. “So, yeah ... That’s been hard.”
“Even if it doesn’t go well, there’s some great things that have come out of this already,” Goode said.
He tries to reassure supporters that he will be fine. He said, when he survives, he hopes his story will inspire others to never give up.
“I’m fearful for my girls, but I’m not upset for having to go through this because I realize that if I do this right, other people might be encouraged to do it and know they can get it done,” he said. “If I realize that it’s just apart of life, somebody needs to know that. That they can make it.”