I met Joel more than 25 years ago when I was still a student and were attending rival PT schools. Joel and I shared the same dream — to become the best physical therapists we could and to positively impact people’s lives through our work. Although we lost contact as the years went by, from time to time, we would hear about each other’s accomplishments, life changes and whereabouts. Recently, I reconnected with Joel and found out that fate had taken us down different paths.
Joel learned that I moved into academia while maintaining a clinical practice in outpatient PT and writing for Today in PT. He has been an avid follower of my blogs and editorials over the years. I was surprised to learn that Joel has been active in raising awareness for chronic kidney disease and is involved in proactively seeking altruistic living kidney donors through various social media platforms.
When I asked Joel why he has such passion for raising awareness about chronic kidney disease and in finding living kidney donors, he revealed that he has been battling immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy, also called Berger’s disease, since he was an infant. Berger’s disease is a kidney disease that occurs when IgA deposits build up in the kidneys, causing inflammation that damages kidney tissues. IgA is an antibody, a protein produced by the immune system to protect the body from foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses.
Joel said he lived an asymptomatic life between the ages of 8 and 35, when his symptoms began to manifest. His condition forced him to temporarily leave the profession and pursue a career in internet marketing. He was successful in this new venture, but his health continued to decline, and he gained weight and became less active.
In 2010, Joel said he decided to reverse his “downhill slide” and take control of his health by being the best therapist he could be for himself. He used his PT expertise to help him lose 65 pounds through improved nutrition and exercise — he began hiking, dancing, running and weightlifting. In 2012, he was able to accomplish a personal goal to finish a half marathon through exercise, physical training, nutrition.
Despite all of his progress, Joel was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in 2015 and began hemodialysis.
Receiving dialysis treatments and subsequently being cleared for transplant surgery gave him insight into what patients with kidney disorders go through. He believed that had he not had a background in healthcare and an understanding of the system, he would be at home waiting for someone to tell him what to do. Instead, he was a proactive patient.
After receiving clearance for transplant surgery in April, Joel began a social media marketing campaign to find living kidney donors. He had hoped to find 20 potential living kidney donors who were willing to get tested and have his transplant surgery before year’s end. Instead, he found 32 potential living kidney donors within three and a half months! Although, two of the potential donors were tested and were not a match, Joel continues to search for a donor.
Joel said living donors who were not a match for him could be part of a network of donors available for other patients. He is hoping his model for seeking living donors using social media will be adopted by other patients, thereby increasing the pool for identified living donors. He believes this model will make the search for willing donors more efficient, which could alleviate the long wait in finding a perfect match. Joel also is developing an app to help educate kidney transplant patients and their families and friends about the social media marketing process.
When I asked Joel if he thinks we are living the dream we had in common when we were still students, he did not hesitate to respond. “Without a doubt!” he said. He believes that we can still continue to work on becoming the best physical therapists we can be and to positively impact people’s lives — in my case, the students I teach; for Joel, the many patients he has treated, including himself. Joel is certain he also has an opportunity to help improve the lives of millions of patients suffering from kidney disease. He vows to use his illness as an opportunity to act, instead of lying in bed feeling sorry for himself. I say he already accomplished that goal.
For more information about Joel, visit:
Website is www.Kidneyforjoel.com
Facebook is www.Facebook.com/joelcr
Instagram is www.Instagram.com/joelchristv