MILWAUKEE — Wisconsinites are becoming their own advocates when it comes to finding a healthy match for a kidney donation. Some are hoping to catch anyone's attention even as they drive.
You may have seen billboards pop up around Milwaukee showing people like Nicole desperately looking for a living kidney donation.
74-year-old Jim Ippolite never thought he'd be in the same position until he had a health emergency last May that put him on dialysis for four months.
"Acute kidney failure. I have a small percentage of kidney function left," said Jim.
A father and grandfather, Jim considered himself relatively healthy, avoiding red meat, eating leafy greens, and avoiding smoking and alcohol. However, Jim said in his case consuming too many foods high in oxalate like leafy greens, green tea, and chocolate possibly combined with a gout medication contributed to his kidney failure.
Jim and his family exhausted social media and their networks to find a donor. So far they have had eight rejections.
"Unfortunately, you may be aware our society isn't the healthiest in the world, and donor criteria are extremely strict," said Jim.
So he and his family put up billboards for a couple of weeks that say "My grandpa needs a kidney" along with contact information.
"It hasn't been successful, but we're going into another month so hopefully we'll get something from that," said Jim.
"Just because you’re a family member that doesn’t always mean that the blood types or tissue types are perfect matches. That’s where a lot of families go to say 'okay we got to see if other people are willing to donate. We got to go through the registry,' and that’s why you see those billboards and things like that come in," said Alyse Bailey, a board member with the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin and living kidney donor herself.
The National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin reported the state has 1,274 people waiting for a kidney one.
Living donations are ideal because they last twice as long as a deceased donation.
Bailey said the average wait time for a first-time kidney transplant is 3.5 years. In the United States, 33 percent of people are at risk for kidney disease. While high blood pressure and diabetes can be contributing factors, it's believed COVID-19 will also play into increasing risk.
"Everybody who is willing to donate look into it. It's a beautiful amazing thing that we can do to give a part of our bodies to save another person. It’s an amazing thing that you see both recipients and donors thriving," said Bailey.
In the meantime, Jim remains positive that a healthy donor match will come through.
"It kind of just gives you your life back and that's what I'm looking forward to," said Jim.
Advocates say both kidney donation recipients and donors thrive after a transplant. For more information on how to become a donor head to kidneywi.org.
To learn more about Jim head to jimippolite.com.