2017-06-01 / News

Lifelong islander needs new kidney

June 11 fundraiser will aid Kerry Clarke’s transplant

Cousins Kristen Hazlewood, left, and Kerry Clarke at East Ferry beach. Hazlewood is donating a kidney to Clarke. The operation is scheduled for June 15, four days after the fundraiser. Cousins Kristen Hazlewood, left, and Kerry Clarke at East Ferry beach. Hazlewood is donating a kidney to Clarke. The operation is scheduled for June 15, four days after the fundraiser. It was a simple blood test for a routine physical, but when Kerry Clarke’s phone rang the following morning and a doctor was on the other end, she knew something wasn’t right.

“The blood work came back that there was something very wrong with my kidney function,” she said. “You don’t want to see your doctor calling you back the next day after a physical. She called back at 7:30 in the morning.”

Although it took numerous more tests before there was consensus, Clarke is entering her 14th month diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, an advanced kidney disease also known as Berger’s. Clarke, a lifelong Jamestowner who turned 40 last month, needs an organ transplant. To lower the burden of medical bills associated with the procedure, Clarke’s friends and family have organized a June 11 fundraiser at the Bay Voyage.

Proceeds from the event, which is dubbed the “Caring for Kerry Fundraiser,” will benefit out-of-pocket expenses for Clarke’s kidney transplant and recovery, including deductibles, medication and travel costs. Tickets cost $20 per person and are available at Baker’s Pharmacy. They also can be purchased at PurplePass.com by searching “caring for Kerry.”

According to Clarke, it’s been a bumpy ride since her doctor’s initial call following the blood test. At first, Clarke was told it was nothing serious because the rest of her lab work was fine. Also, she wasn’t feeling ill. When a second round of blood work came back with similar results, the doctor referred Clarke to a nephrologist.

“I was very nonchalant,” Clarke said. “I thought I’d go see this nephrologist, they’ll put me on a medication and I’ll be all fixed. I never thought it was going to be anything serious.”

Following a third round of blood work, the nephrologist told Clarke her creatinine, which is a breakdown product of phosphate in the muscle, was sky high. It’s an indicator of advanced kidney disease, the doctor said. Following two biopsies and an ultrasound, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Clarke’s doctors believe the disease was caused by a cold or flu. Her immune system had an allergic reaction, they told her, and began to attack her kidneys.

The disease has significantly affected Clarke’s daily life. Because she’s required to undergo dialysis three times a week, Clarke’s had to scale back her job with Newport Public Schools, where she readies students for the future, whether that be college or a career. She now works in the schools two days a week and does the remainder of her job from home. Also, following a hospitalization in February, an external port was installed on her body, which precludes her from swimming or showering.

“It goes right to my heart, so if it gets infected, it could be deadly,” she said. “So I have to be really careful. It’s a nuisance to have and it’s uncomfortable.”

When Clarke received her diagnosis, she was hesitant to share the news with anyone but her closest friends and family. After she left the hospital, however, Clarke become more forthcoming.

“Everyone’s been so supportive,” she said. “Jamestowners are amazing when somebody from here is going through something. They really rally around that person.”

Clarke was faced with two options: be on dialysis for the rest of her life or find a donor. She decided to pursue a living donor to speed up the transplant process. Following months of testing, her first cousin was matched as a donor.

“It doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but it’s better because your tissues match better,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m just so lucky.”

The transplant is scheduled for June 15, just days after the fundraiser, at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. Clarke will be out of work for several months recuperating after the surgery, which is expensive. Brainstorming to help with those bills began soon after Clarke decided on the transplant.

“We were getting together to talk about what Kerry was going through, and how she’s been generous to other people,” said Julie Swistak, who’s helping organize the Bay Voyage event. “We wanted to do something for her so that she could focus on her health and not worry about anything.”

Clarke has spearheaded a charitable golf tournament named for her late father, Peter C. Clarke, annually since 2002. The recreation department and the community farm have been among the tournament’s beneficiaries.

Swistak, who is married to Clarke’s cousin, said in-law’s philanthropy and generosity inspired her friends to mobilize.

“She does so much for so many other people,” Swistak said.

After hearing about the fundraiser, Clarke said she wanted to use the event to raise awareness for organ donation.

“There’s a lot of people that, on their driver’s licenses, don’t check the donor’s box because they’re unsure or don’t know what that means,” she said. “There’s 90,000 people right now in the United States that are waiting for a kidney, and a lot of people die waiting because it takes so long. There’s only a certain amount of kidneys that become available.”

Although the fundraiser is just days before her transplant, Clarke will be in attendance. She wants to have a good time, she said, not a somber one. “I made a point that I wanted it to be fun and upbeat.”

The fundraiser will include a raffle and auction featuring prizes donated by Grapes & Gourmet, Jamestown Fitness, Midtown Oyster Bar and Conanicut Marine. Music will be provided by Tim Naughton, who also created the graphics for the event’s posters. Liz Watson of Payton’s Pace has loaned lawn games and the Cathryn Jamieson Salon is financing a photo booth.

In addition to the fundraiser, a GoFundMe campaign was set up for Clarke’s expenses. As of press time, that campaign has raised $18,735 of its $20,000 goal.

“Never in my wildest would I have ever thought that I have a GoFundMe page,” she said. “It’s beyond the monetary contributions, it’s the messages they put up there. It makes you feel so loved.”

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