A pair of Newberg residents attempt to spread the word on their own plight and encourage people to register as organ donors
By now, many people in the community know who Kevin Gray is, even if they dont know his name.
Hes the man thats been standing alongside Highway 99W for the past couple of weeks holding the sign that reads Living kidney donor needed.
What people may not know is that after spending nine hours each night on dialysis, standing on the street takes a lot of energy, not to mention the disposition it requires to put oneself on display during such a personal crisis.
Considering his kidney failure turned his familys world upside down twice before he even made the sign or donned any of his attention-grabbing attire, what truly catches the eye is Grays indomitable spirit, although hed quickly tell you its the communitys support that has heartened him.
People have stopped me at local stores and restaurants to say theyre praying for me, asking for my card or how they can help, Gray said. Just standing out in the street, people are honking and waving. Its a great feeling of encouragement and it makes me want to keep moving forward that much more.
Gray, a father of three, was first rocked by the news that he had stage five kidney disease, the point at which the kidneys have lost nearly all of their function, after persistent headaches prompted a visit to the doctor last May.
The good news was that tests indicated that Grays wife, Dawn Marie, could be an excellent match, but late in the process, it was discovered she had kidney problems of her own that would preclude her from being a donor.
It was devastating because we thought we were done, we thought we could go back to normal and though hed have a life again, Dawn Marie Gray said. I thought wed be able to do everything a normal family can do again. I thought hed be able to pick up his daughter.
For Kevin, it felt like everything came crashing down in a flash, especially because he had gotten his hopes up, despite the standard advice not to do so.
Facing the question of what to do next, Gray found himself determined to reach out, not only for himself, but to share what he had learned about the disease so that he would be remembered for helping to save lives, not just holding up a sign.
Sometimes hopes get broken, he said. That just makes you fight even harder. You cant just lie down and do nothing about it.
When people stop to talk to him on the street, Gray gives them a card with his donor information and refers them to www.legacylivingdonor.org to sign up to be a donor. He also points them to the Facebook page of the local nonprofit group Are You My Type, which was founded by Michelle Saddoris, a Newberg woman also in need of a kidney transplant, and his wife, who serves as vice president. The organization is raising money to support both families, in part to offset potential transplant costs for them and any donors.
On Friday Gray was joined not only by Saddoris, but about 20 members of the community, at his favorite spot near the corner of Highway 99W and Brutscher Street.
Not every community is like that, Dawn Marie Gray said. This is a community that supports each other, loves each other and thats what were about.
Grays story was picked up by several national news organizations last week and took a sad and unwelcome turn when Christian Longo, a convicted murderer on Oregons death row, contacted Portland television station KGW to say that he and other inmates would be willing to be tested and donate an organ.
Inmates can legally donate organs, but are rarely allowed, and Longo helped found the nonprofit organization GAVE (Gifts of Anatomical Value from Everyone) to change that.
Gray said Monday that since then people on both sides of the inmate-organ debate have surfaced to harass him and his family through phone messages, email and even in person when he goes to the store.
Dawn Marie Gray added that Are You My Type has no affiliation with Longo and its sole concern is to help match those in need with living donors.
Feeling that Longo effectively highjacked his story with an issue that was unfairly thrust upon him and has resulted in a dangerous situation for his family, Gray said he will not comment further on the situation.
Thats what this whole thing has turned into and thats very unfortunate, Gray said. Everybody is now focused on this and theyre not even focused on signing up to be a donor.