As the new year arrived, 51-year-old Marcus Edwards reflected back on what was a lifesaving year in 2021. Marcus found out he was in kidney failure three years earlier, and in 2021, he had a transplant that saved his life and allowed him to start a new chapter with his family.
But the road to his October 2021 transplant was rather unique. It all started at a Chicago Bears game on a cold Nov. 10, 2019. A surprise trip to the game would lead to a viral moment that ultimately led to his kidney donor—someone he would never have met otherwise.
Discovering Kidney Failure
A native of Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small town along the Ohio River just north of Louisville, Kentucky, Marcus worked for Ford Motor Company for 22 years. For the last 12 years, he has been a union representative. By his side are his wife, Shantel, and his four children: Dezirae, Ciera, Alston and Marcus Jr. Family has always been a huge part of his life—he even coached his boys up until he got sick.
“I’ve always been involved in my kids’ lives,” Marcus said. “They are all athletes. The girls are in the band and color guard, Alston is a swimmer and track runner, and Marcus Jr. does football, basketball and baseball.”
No matter how busy everyone gets, the Edwards family always makes time to get together, whether it be having meals, going on vacations or even studying together.
“I’d always rather be with my family. We spend a lot of time together,” said Marcus.
One of Marcus’ favorite family activities is their annual camping trip. Around 40members of the family travel to Atlanta, Georgia, and take up nearly the entire campsite. Each year, they have traveled to a different campsite to enjoy their time together.
The annual camping trip – and many other trips – had to be put on hold after Marcus got sick.
Back in 1994 at 24 years old, Marcus discovered he was diabetic—a condition that runs in his family. Before this, he didn’t have any issues with his health, as h worked out a lot and played sports. But in recent years, he’s developed issues from his diabetes, including kidney failure.
“I didn’t really have any major issues,” Marcus explained. “Did I control my issues the best? No. Because when you are feeling good, you don’t realize anything else could be wrong. Otherwise, I was healthy. I was good.”
Marcus first noticed something was wrong in 2019, when he was preparing for a vacation to St. Louis, Missouri, to see Alston in a swim meet. Before the trip, he went to his primary care physician to have his normal checkups done. His doctor noticed that his potassium levels were high and referred him to the hospital to have additional testing done. His results came back normal, so he went ahead with his trip to St. Louis.
Following the St. Louis trip, Marcus then had to fly to Florida for a work trip. At the beginning of the trip, he felt fine, but as the trip wore on, he began to feel a drag.
“I thought maybe it was from traveling too much. I really didn’t know,” Marcus said. “I felt like I had a really bad case of the flu. I didn’t leave my hotel room after that.”
Marcus’ condition continued to decline. By the end of that business trip, he could barely walk and had to be transported through the airport by wheelchair. He went back to the hospital as soon as he got back, and on June 1, 2019, he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure.
Acute kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are suddenly unable to filter waste products from the blood. Marcus started dialysis, which helps to remove excess waste and fluid from the blood.
Although the rapid change in his condition was stunning, it was not a surprise that it was his kidneys. His grandmother was on dialysis up until her death in 2000.
Dialysis improved his kidney function at times, but then his kidneys would fail again. In order to receive a kidney transplant, he needed to be on dialysis for a certain length of time, and his transplant journey began.