The Organ Transplant Story You Don’t Hear

Ten years ago, James “Bo” Calvert received a transplant to replace his only kidney. Now that kidney is failing.

His arms are covered with the sticky gunk left after bandages come off. There is a blue bruise on the inside of his right forearm. A long plastic tube enters a hole near his belly button. When it’s not in use, James “Bo” Calvert tucks the tube that he uses for dialysis into a spandex “bra” that circles his chest.

Calvert has stage 4 kidney disease, which means his kidney function is only 15 to 30 percent. There are six stages of chronic kidney disease — stage 4 is the last stage before end-stage renal disease (ESRD), when the kidneys cannot filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. At this point, you need a transplant or dialysis to stay alive.

Calvert has had both.

He is 37 and the kidney he received 10 years ago is failing. He has dark hair and pale skin and a day or two of dark stubble. His private room at Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, overlooks a forest of mostly deciduous trees. The walls are turquoise, a color that Calvert explains is supposed to induce happiness and calm.

“It’s the same color they use in execution chambers,” he says.

He isn’t being morbid, just factual. Calvert is a bit of a trivia nerd. When he was 21 he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. At 25 he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. He learned then that he had been born with only one kidney — and it was failing.

Ten years ago I wrote about the kidney Calvert received. Like so many kidney donation stories, it had a happy ending, but that ending was premature. That is why I came back in Louisville — the story was incomplete.

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