Author and professional rock musician James Michael McLester was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in his early thirties. He endured 13 years of regular hemodialysis before his best friend, Laura Suarez McCutcheon, offered to donate one of her kidneys to James to save his life. On December 9, James received the gift of life from Laura.
How did you find out that Laura was a compatible donor?
James: Laura and I were like brother and sister when we were involved in the same music scene in the ‘80s. We lost touch for twenty seven years. In June 2014, Laura sent me a message on Facebook asking about my life. I shared with Laura my new autobiography and a bit of my medical history. At the time, I was dependent on dialysis and I was coping with shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension and severe fluid restrictions. Laura volunteered and was tested as a living kidney donor for me at the Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio, and she was a match.
Laura: I really didn’t think too much about it when I made the decision to get tested. I just wanted to help him. During the months that followed, I never gave it a second thought. By nature, I am a worrier, and I’d never had surgery before, but I knew this was the path God chose for me. I never had one second of apprehension.
What would your future have looked like without Laura’s gift?
James: As a professional musician, I was unable to tour overseas in several countries where dialysis is either unavailable or reserved for extremely wealthy citizens. I would have faced twenty to thirty years of dialysis three times every week. I would have had to endure continued stress and anxiety and an income decreased by 80 percent due to my dialysis schedule.
How did you feel knowing that she was willing to give the gift of life to you?
James: Before Laura, five different kidney donors were tested for me between 2007 and 2015, and each was unable to donate either because of medical reasons (blood type, health issues) or personal circumstances. After I enjoyed dinner and a long talk with Laura and her fiancé, Chris, we both started to feel comfortable proceeding with the kidney transplant work-up to determine her eligibility to donate. Laura exemplified unconditional love towards me. She is a giving friend to all who know her.
Laura: Once we found out I was a match, we were so excited, I think James was in shock!
Do you two share a special connection now?
James: Laura and I both love the Lord with all of our hearts and realize that He is our source for giving thanks, walking in grace and mercy, and eternally growing in compassion. Everywhere we now travel in this life, we will illustrate a divine portrait of giving and receiving.
Laura: He is my best friend, brother and confidant. Our bond is unbreakable! Our relationship is one of true, honest love and respect.
What is the most exciting part of life after transplant?
Laura: James is very happy post-transplant! He’s making plans and looking forward to his future and the possibilities it holds. I love to see him smile!
James: I can now look forward to touring with my various musical projects, traveling, starting a family, and continuing to share my story for God’s glory.
Do you still have medical expenses to cover with fundraising?
James: I am responsible for a Medicare supplement policy with an out-of-pocket cost of $385 per month. Thirty-six months after my transplant date, Medicare will terminate my coverage and I will be fully responsible for all transplant-related medical expenses for the rest of my life. The expensive anti-rejection medications I have to take for my lifetime are out-of-pocket expenses that will cost me hundreds or thousands every month. With that said, there’s no guarantee that I will be able to push myself to return to full time work for another few months now that the transplant has happened, so my income is still not what it was before I switched to part time work. That’s why I continue to fundraise with HelpHOPELive even after the transplant.
Laura, would you recommend living donation to someone else?
Laura: I recommend organ donation to everyone. It’s an important decision, and one that must be understood and offered from a place of pure love. It’s an amazing experience! It wasn’t until after our surgery that I really realized, I saved James’ life. Wow! What a gift God has given me! If I had to do it over, I would. Give life! There is no greater gift.
Follow James’s recovery story at helphopelive.org.