FRAMINGHAM — James Earl Halstead doesn’t look like he’s 52 years old and as an active bicyclist, clocking in 40 miles a trip, he didn’t think an illness could slow him down.
Not only has his end stage renal disease slowed him down, but it has left this Framingham resident dependent on the kindness and courage of strangers as he seeks someone willing to donate a kidney. Halstead, who works as an engineer at the U.S. Army Natick Labs, is beginning to show the slightly yellowed skin color of those with kidney disease. He has only 21 percent of his kidney function remaining and doctors say it will be a month or two before he will need to go on dialysis. “The good news is you are not that sick until they go,” said Halstead who then described his fatigue and dizziness of late as his renal function tumbled.
Halstead has been sick for 10 years, ever since a bad case of the flu left him with IGA nethropathy. He may have felt he was living on borrowed time. At first, doctors told him 10 years ago that he had a much more serious disease. “I was told to go home, write a will and that I had three months to live,” Halstead said. “I guess I never really believed it.” Further testing showed his condition was much less severe.
Recent tests have shown his condition has markedly worsened but he remains upbeat. “I think it’s just a little bad luck that I’ve been stricken with this,” he said. Halstead and his wife, Myra, blame the sudden change on toxic mold found in the home last year after a water pipe burst. The mold, which gave the rest of the family migraine headaches, nausea and sinus problems, sent the family to a hotel for eight months. Now, it is up to the Halsteads to find a live donor willing to give up a kidney.
“You basically have to sell yourself,” Halstead said. The family, which has taken in 19 foster children with special needs over the past seven years, has printed fliers and sent out countless e-mails through friends and co-workers trying to find a match. Halstead’s son, Alex, was a potential match and wanted to help save his dad but was told he was too young. His daughter, Heather, 24, was the wrong blood type. Potential donors must be healthy, 18-60 years old and have O positive or O negative blood. Further tissue testing will determine if the potential donor is a match to Halstead but it is up to the Halsteads to recruit and find a live donor, otherwise, he goes on the wait list for cadaver donors. Donated kidneys from cadavers do not have as high a success rate as live donors. The recipient’s insurance covers all the medical costs of the donor and the surgery is now done at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston with smaller incisions to reduce the recovery time.
When Myra gave birth to Alex nearly 16 years ago, complications sent her into a coma and damaged her brain. It took her three years to recover and once she had she decided she would try to focus on helping others, every day if she could. It began with small acts of kindness to strangers and culminated with being a foster parent to 19 children with special needs. >”I just feel like there’s someone out there that’s like me and wants to do something good,’ said Myra.
Alex said his father has given much to the community, both as a foster father, a volunteer soccer coach with Framingham United Soccer League, and someone who designs equipment for soldiers serving in Iraq, so it is time for his father to be on the receiving end. Halstead knows whoever steps forward to help will have a special bond with him and his family. “I’m not too emotional to begin with, but I would consider them more than a brother or sister,” he said.