Steve Smiley has stood outside the Rancho Bernardo Community Park almost every night for the past few months. He waved at every car and spoke to anyone who wanted to know about his sign: “Stephen Smiley needs a kidney! Can you help?
“I was hopeful that I’d get some response, but I wasn’t sure what would happen,” Smiley said.
Smiley said he has a disease called IgA nephropathy, which is “where the immune system degrades the kidney’s performance over time.” According to Cedars-Sinai website, it can take 10-20 and lead to end-stage renal disease.
The 70-year-old retired engineer said he’s been on dialysis for six years and is one of 100,000 Americans desperately in need of a kidney. That’s why he shared his story with NBC 7 last week about waving at cars in Rancho Bernardo.
“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it myself,” said Anji Borzo-Kenley, a friend of 20 years. “I just want him to get a kidney ASAP.”
Since Smiley spoke with NBC 7, several dozen emails were sent to the address on his shirt: StevesChampion@Gmail.com.
“I thought, ‘This is amazing to see these emails pouring in!’ " exclaimed Borzo-Kenley, who is also “Steve’s champion.”
“She’s my champion for the purposes of helping me get a kidney,” Smiley said.
The duo downplayed the number of emails because they need so many more.
“We had a nurse, we had a teacher,” checked off Borzo-Kenly, “we had somebody who was like, ‘Hey Steve-O. Whatcha doin’, man? I want to chat with you. How’s it going?’ ”
Borzo-Kenley said she checks each email and forwards them the number for Smiley’s hospital.
“Scripps Green -- and they are the people who start the process of triage,” Borzo-Kenley said.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to have these people want to help me,” Smiley said, smiling.
The swarm of emailed gave Smiley hope but he said he’s still cautious.
“We need way more,” Borzo-Kenley said. “The thing is that people have a good heart, but they don’t understand the process.”
Smiley said a volunteer could still help, even if they’re not a perfect match. They could match another person in need of a kidney, and then there might be a volunteer donor who matched Smiley, in what is called a “paired exchange.”
Either way, time is running out for Smiley. He said doctors wanted him to get a kidney now.
“Needle in a haystack, but it could happen,” said Steve’s champion. “I’m counting on it. Steve’s worked so hard for this.”