Across Utah County, there are people waiting for donations, whether it is a needed organ, bone marrow or blood that will save their lives. Others have given these life-saving donations to complete strangers. Gift of Life highlights those involved in the medical donation process.
Jeffrey Smith’s kidney transplant in March has transformed his life. Now, his family is fighting to make sure the life-saving procedure doesn’t financially devastate him down the road.
Jeffrey, a 15-year-old Eagle Mountain teen who attends Rockwell Charter High School, can use Medicare to help pay for his medication for 36 months following his transplant. After that, he’ll need to find other ways to pay for the drugs he’ll have to take for the rest of his life.
“This is all news to us,” said Karin Smith, Jeffrey’s mother. “We didn’t know that after three years they don’t cover medication.”
The kidney transplant drug therapy medication costs $3,000 a month without insurance. With insurance, it costs between $300 and $500 a month due to it being classified by drug companies as a specialty medication.
To help with the lifetime costs, the family and their Eagle Mountain community is working to raise $40,000 through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, a national nonprofit which helps groups raise funds for families who have experienced a transplant.
Jeffrey was born with chronic kidney disease and spent his first days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
His family has always known he’d need a transplant when he was a teenager.
“It wasn’t a matter of if, but when,” said Derek Smith, Jeffrey’s father.
The Smiths reached out to family and friends to see if someone was both a match and willing to donate a kidney to Jeffrey. There were family members who originally agreed, and then dragged their feet. Then the son of a family friend heard about it, and the next thing the Smiths knew, they had a donor.
“This donor, he never wavered,” Derek Smith said. “When I told him, ‘There’s no pressure,’ he was like, ‘Nope. I feel like that is what I am supposed to do.’”
Jeffrey’s two diseased kidneys were removed six days before his transplant, and he was placed on dialysis for a week before the procedure.
“Seeing his kidneys when they pulled them out, it’s a miracle he’s still alive,” said Jeffrey’s 18-year-old sister, Divinia Smith. “Even the doctors said that.”
Since then, Jeffrey’s health has improved.
“I feel a lot better now than before,” he said.
Jeffrey appeared ashen before the transplant. He was losing weight, and Derek Smith said Jeffrey walked like an old man due to abdominal pain.
“He was basically withering away for the last two years,” Derek Smith said.
The transplant marked the 25th surgery Jeffrey has been sedated for. He’s expected to need another kidney in 30 to 35 years.
The Smith family was told to avoid crowds as much as they could for two months following the transplant, while Jeffrey has to stay away from crowds for three. Visitors were asked to wash their hands and wear a face mask when visiting Jeffrey, and his siblings brought face masks to school.
“They got to the point where they would carry a mask in their bag, and if anybody coughed, they would put it on,” Karin Smith said.
In the meantime, Jeffrey, who was recently cleared by doctors to begin playing basketball again, has been using Fortnite to interact with his friends. He’ll be able to have his first public outing since the transplant on July 4.
Divinia Smith said her brother’s health has made the family grow stronger and has increased their faith.
“He is my hero,” Divinia Smith said. “He has always been somebody where I knew if he could do it, I could do it, too.”
The online fundraiser through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association had raised more than $10,600 of its $40,000 goal as of Monday. All money donated goes toward Jeffrey’s medical costs.
The community is also finalizing fundraising events that will happen in August.
The family has to provide receipts to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association in order to be reimbursed with the funds they’ve raised. The money can only be used for medical reasons.
To learn more and donate, go to http://cota.org/campaigns/cotaforteamjeffrey.