Days are busy for Andy Simpson. Not only does he run his own liquor store, he also runs the town.
The mayor of Brigantine balances his duties and the budget, but days get tougher when he goes home. Each night, he hooks himself up to a dialysis machine to treat his stage-five kidney failure, which he’s lived with for two years.
But Simpson, 61, has hope. He found an apparent match for a transplant after his family ran a campaign to help him find a donor, posting a billboard advertisement and creating a Facebook group to recruit potential donors.
The campaign — launched after his three adult children were ruled out as possible donors — cast a worldwide search that just so happened to catch one of the family’s closest friends. Simpson’s possible match lives a few blocks away and used to babysit his kids. Though Simpson found a potential donor after a few months of searching, his case is an anomaly that highlights how difficult it is to find a match.
The National Kidney Foundation says that finding a donor can sometimes take five to 10 years. The family — already reeling from the loss of Simpson’s wife, Linda, who had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and died about a month ago — didn’t want to wait.
“It really depends on, I hate to say this, how sick you are,” Simpson said. “If you’re ready to die, I’m sure there is a kidney out there.”
Willing, living donors are usually hard to find. Most people have to wait for a healthy registered organ donor to die. Donor organs must be intact and healthy, and blood type, family history, medications, and proximity to the recipient all are taken into account.
Simpson’s creative search to speed up the process has been the talk of the town.
The family liquor store, called Bootleggers, uses two billboards to advertise. The Simpsons used one to help find a donor, posting the ad outside Atlantic City in November. They also created a Facebook page, which the family said has brought the most interest in helping Simpson.
Simpson said that about 50 people submitted applications to donate a kidney to him, but the family knows of only two people who made it past the application phase, in which the medical team rules out anyone whose organs wouldn’t be suitable.
From there, they bring the remaining applicants in for more testing.
Doctors are stingy with whom they advance, to ensure that they find the best match. One of Simpson’s daughters, Katie, said doctors have ruled out applicants for everything from high blood pressure to anxiety.
To protect potential donors’ privacy, the medical team also does not tell the family when an applicant is tested.
“They don’t take it lightly because it’s somebody’s life and somebody’s organ,” Katie said.
Recently, Simpson family friend Dena Kabala applied, and she has moved swiftly through testing, which can take up to six months, pushing doctors for quick responses.
“When she went [for testing,] she called them every single day,” Katie said.
Kabala awaits the results of one last test before she can be cleared to donate her kidney to Simpson.
Kabala declined to comment because “she doesn’t want to jinx it right now,” Katie said.