Michael Massey has amassed almost half of the money needed to undergo a life-saving surgery.
The Brookings-Harbor High School graduate was born with a blockage in his urethra that resulted in him having surgery to remove his right kidney and left his remaining kidney with 30 percent capacity — all at the age of 2.
He was relatively healthy throughout his childhood, and after graduation, worked in construction in Klamath Falls before he was struck with gout.
“It hit me really hard,” he said. “It came from my kidney not filtering my blood. Usually, it’s your toes, but it was my knees, my toes, even my ears.”
Dialysis, he said, was a lifesaver, removing the toxins from his blood. But it also takes out vital elements, including proteins. He had to take phosphorus — and a pill to excrete that. Then he got a phosphorus rash that seeped out his pores.
Five years ago, that kidney finally failed.
He had to quit his job to get on disability, moved back to Brookings and underwent peritoneal dialysis for five years.
This summer, he developed peritonitis — the inflammation of the peritoneum, a silk-like membrane lining the inner abdominal wall and covering the organs within.
Most recently, Massey, 27, had a catheter inserted directly into his heart — usually it’s an arm — for emergency hemodialysis, for which he travels three times a week to Grants Pass.
“It’s an all-day thing,” he said. “There’s four hours of dialysis, four hours driving … But it’s what I’ve got to do for right now, at least.”
And that procedure is five times more likely to get infected — and therefore 50 percent more likely to kill him.
At one point, Massey caught an infection he believes was the result of a tube change. He got bloated, and his catheter filled up with pus. It destroyed his appendix.
He has an 8-inch scar from the surgery that ensued.
He takes 10 medications every day: two for high-blood pressure, one for nausea, another for gout brought on by the kidney’s failure. There’s vitamin B, calcium and a weekly testosterone shot.
The number will double when he gets a transplant, to include anti-rejection drugs and antibiotics, among others.
Massey had his hopes dampened again on Tuesday, he said.
“I had an appointment with the organ surgical specialist in Medford,” he said. “They originally scheduled me Sept. 11 for surgery to hopefully get a catheter in my stomach so I can do dialysis at home; they just called to reschedule.”
The cost of healthcare
Massey needs $30,000 — upfront — to qualify to even have other people tested to see if they’re a match for a kidney transplant.
More than 180 people have contributed to his GoFundMe site in the past 28 days, raising $12,716, and a bank account set up has collected about $750 — leaving him $16,534 short of his goal.
“It’s going a lot better than I even expected,” Massey admitted. “And other people have written me to express their interest in helping me. One lady said she’d do a yard sale. Anything that helps.
“I didn’t expect any of this — nearly as much support as this,” he continued. “It’s given me a second wind of hope, a boost of enthusiasm.”
Other fundraisers are in the works, as well. Massey plays music, so he plans to provide the entertainment at a spaghetti feed his mother, Laurie Evans, plans to host. At the end of the month, he’ll perform at a fundraiser in Central Point that includes a raffle.
He’ll need every penny.
“After fighting this disease almost my whole life, and doing whatever I can to get by, now I’ve been stopped in my tracks — all due to money I don’t have to pay for the transplant,” Massey said. “I’ve been on the transplant waiting list, and have siblings and other people willing to donate, but without the money … I’m not even eligible.”
The system frustrates him.
“It’s like they’re weeding people out — a homeless person without money or family would literally pass away,” he said. “If I didn’t have my mother, I would be excluded. I wouldn’t have a choice.”
She will be his “support person, and one of the many duties required of her will be to ensure Massey takes his medication precisely on time.
“If the new kidney fails for that reason, you get knocked down the list so it makes it harder to get another one,” he said. “You’d think they’d want to help with transplant. We were hoping I could go straight to a transplant instead of dialysis — if you can skip the dialysis and go directly to surgery, a new kidney is more likely to survive. But keeping you on dialysis is making them more money.”
Getting to this point
Massey has been tested for underlying conditions that might result in a rejected organ. Typically, a patient must go through that every six months, but Massey assumes his youth persuaded doctors to extend that to a year.
Not only does Oregon Health and Science University in Portland require he live within a certain distance from the hospital and have the money upfront, he needs that support person.
“It has to be someone in my family or my daily life who will be there after,” Massey said. “The only person I have is my mom; I didn’t know what we were going to do.”
But his mother could also be a viable transplant match — in which case she can’t be the support person.
Assuming the money is raised, the transplant is approved and a donor is found, Massey and his mother need to find a place to live for about three months. There’s six weeks of training before the surgery, three weeks when Massey’s in the hospital and another six weeks of recuperation.
His mother will likely have to give up her job and the home they rent here to afford the relocation to Portland. He doesn’t know what his 22-year-old sister and her 1-year-old daughter will do.
Returning to Brookings might not be an option.
The perfect match
Massey has one biological sister and three brothers; the sister is the one most likely to be a match. And she’s willing, although that sometimes makes Massey feel guilty.
“But at the same time, my siblings want to do it,” he said. “I’d never be able to ask anybody. And I’ve been through certain times I didn’t want to take a kidney from them. They (refused to consider that.)”
There could be other matches — perhaps even better than a family member. And there’s a program Massey calls “kidney recycling,” in which a would-be donor who doesn’t match a patient donates their kidney instead to someone who is a better match. Someone else in the program then donates one of their kidneys to the first patient.
“Whatever works,” Massey said.
It’s a wonder he can keep his spirits up.
“Music, I guess,” he said. “I play a lot of music. But I don’t have a choice. It’s either get run over or keep moving forward. I’ve got my family, my siblings. I just keep moving forward, try to do what I can.”
Donations can be submitted to his GoFundMe account — www.gofundme.com/448g9c-life-saving-kidney-transplant — or at Rogue Credit Union in Brookings, where an account has been established in his name.