Brian Martindale, of Bay City talks about donating his kidney to 10 year-old Jessica Schwerin, during a benefit in Detroit, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. Martindale, a business owner is facing financial struggles after donating his kidney.(Photo: Andre J. Jackson, Detroit Free Press)
Melanie Scott Dorsey, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT - Brian Martindale said it was by chance that he saw a local newspaper story that would eventually lead to him save the life of a 10-year-old girl in need of a kidney transplant who lived just four blocks away.
"I just happened to pick up the paper that day," Martindale recalled Wednesday. "It was September 29 and there she was."
The story in the Bay City Times told of Bay City mom Stacey Schwerin and her 10-year-old daughter Jessica Schwerin, who was diagnosed with kidney failure on Aug. 2 and in desperate need of a transplant to live.
"It was devastating, absolutely devastating," Stacey Schwerin said Wednesday of her daughter's diagnosis. "I realized I couldn't give her a kidney because of my health."
So Schwerin, a single mother, took to the streets of Bay City with a large pink poster board sign that read, "Please help!! My daughter needs a kidney!! I can't lose her."
After reading about Schwerin and her sign, Martindale said, he decided to call her and inquired about Jessica's blood type.
"I learned we had the same blood type," Martindale said.
Two weeks later he was tested. "They notified me the day before Thanksgiving that I was an exact match," he said.
The transplant took place last month at University of Michigan's Mott's Children's Hospital.
Martindale, 51, who owns an apparel shop in Bay City, was honored Wednesday at a fundraiser at UDetroit Cafe in Detroit to cover his medical expenses incurred due to complications from the kidney transplant.
As of Feb. 1, there were 2,538 Michigan residents waiting for a kidney transplant, according to Gift of Life Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based, federally designated organ and tissue recovery program. Of those waiting for kidneys, only 17 are children. The average wait is about a year.
Martindale said he was introduced to Jessica in November. They became friends, but he concealed the fact that he planned to donate one of his kidneys to her.
"I didn't decide to give her my kidney so anyone would know, "Martindale said. "I have a 28-year-old son and if he needed a kidney, I would want someone to help. I knew I matched, and I didn't do this for notoriety. I just wanted to save her life."
Stacey Schwerin and Jessica spoke to Martindale via Skype at the benefit Wednesday. Schwerin shared how scared she was to learn of Jessica's diagnosis.
"I couldn't help her, and it was a long wait for a donor," Schwerin said. "It was too much to see a 10-year old go through."
Jessica said she could not enjoy some of her favorite foods.
"It was terrible because I couldn't eat nothing," Jessica said. "I couldn't have potassium, and potatoes have that, and I love potatoes."
Stacey Schwerin said she took to the streets because she felt that was her only option.
"People tried to give me money but I said, 'No, I need a kidney,'" Schwerin said.
Jessica and her mom learned of Martindale's gift on Thanksgiving Day.
"I blew the roof off the house screaming," Schwerin said of her reaction to the news.
Jessica and Martindale rode to the Ann Arbor hospital together on transplant day on Jan. 11.
Martindale, who continues to visit Jessica, said her transformation since the transplant has been visible and amazing.
"When I met Jessica she was very fair-skinned, and since the transplant she has color in her face," Martindale said. "She also has so much energy."
It is not the first time Martindale considered donating his kidney.
More than two years ago, Martindale and his son David created a business called Karma Inc. Apparel, which donates 10% of its sales to charity. It was around that time Martindale met a man who would later become his friend. That man needed a kidney transplant.
"He had no insurance, and after getting to know him over a few months I contacted U of M hospital to see if I could donate my kidney," Martindale said.
Martindale would learn that he was not a match for his friend, but inquired about the paired donation program where he would donate a kidney to someone he matched and in turn his friend would get a kidney from someone who matched.
"I never dreamed my business would lead me to giving a kidney," Martindale said.
Stacey Schwerin said she is beyond grateful for Martindale's donation.
"August 2 to January 11 is a far cry from a year and a far cry from dialysis," Schwerin said. "He gave my daughter her life and gave me my life, too."
Detroit Free Press