BRIGANTINE — Andy Simpson needs a kidney. Rather than sit back and wait on an 8-years-long waiting list, his family became proactive.
Simpson, 61, the city’s mayor, is suffering from end-stage renal disease, a chronic disease in which the kidneys decrease in functionality until they no longer work, according to Mayoclinc.org.
Simpson’s three children, who lost their mother, Linda, in January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, weren’t giving up hope on their dad.
To quickly find a donor, a Facebook page was made and a billboard erected in the westbound lanes of the White Horse Pike in Atlantic City. The billboard featured a photo of Simpson holding a little boy with the words, “Please Help Our Dad. Kidney Need Blood Type 0” with an email address.
“It’s been unbelievably hard,” said Meggan Advena, Simpson’s daughter. “My dad has been sick for a long time, and then my mom gets sick. It’s not like he has a cold. This is a life-threatening illness.”
Simpson has been diabetic for more than 30 years. About two years ago, he was hospitalized for an appendicitis. At that time, he was given contrast dye, a substance used for imaging, which affected his kidneys.
Contract dyes can either lead to kidney problems or cause further damage in patients with existing kidney diseases, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Advena, 31, her siblings, Katie, 23, and Andrew, 34, and Simpson decided to erect the billboard together. Simpson co-owns Bootlegger’s Liquor Outlet in Northfield and said the business has two billboards it uses for advertising. Instead of using both for the business, they decided to use one to solicit a kidney donor.
“We said, ‘What else could we do?’” Katie Simpson said. “We just needed to get it out there and get as many people as possible.”
The White Horse Pike billboard was erected in November and taken down last week, but not before at least 40 people reached out to the mayor and said they had put in applications to be potential donors.
“We’ve gotten so many responses,” he said. “I’ll walk into a restaurant and people I don’t even know say they put in applications.”
Potential donors reached out to help after seeing the billboard, the Facebook page or because they know the mayor.
And one may be a perfect match.
Simpson’s family found out Friday that city resident and family friend Dena Kabala, 49, may be the perfect donor for the mayor. Further testing will be conducted before the hospital gives Kabala and Simpson the potential green light.
“Everything looks good. They just want another opinion,” Kabala said. “It’s not a no.”
Although the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where Simpson is getting his care, does not disclose any information to him about potential donors, Kabala is keeping him informed throughout the process.
“To have someone give up their organ for me, it’s unbelievable,” Simpson said through tears. “That person has to be unbelievable, too, to allow someone to take a perfectly good organ from them.”
As soon as Kabala found out Simpson needed a kidney, she wanted to be a donor.
“My family was in a terrible car accident. We survived it, and I wanted to give back,” she said. “He’s a caring, loving father and family man.”
The wait hasn’t just taken an emotional toll on Simpson, but a physical toll as well. Each night he goes to bed while hooked up to a dialysis machine for nine hours.
“The machine puts fluid in me, takes it out and disposes of it,” he said.
But even though the wait may be tiresome, the family is not giving up.
“You have to have hope,” Katie Simpson said. “You have to have something to look forward to or you’ll wallow in the fact that you’re sick. With my mom, there was nothing we could do. But with my dad, there’s something we can do. So, we’re not giving up on that.”
“This is my life,” the mayor said, before pointing to his children. “And it’s their lives, too.”