GILBERT, Ariz. — In one month, a Gilbert man and the man whose life he helped save will be reunited under more relaxing circumstances.
On April 2, Ryan Perkins, 23, who attended Chandler-Gilbert Community College and now works in accounts receivable at Lewis and Roca law firm in Phoenix, will be walking with actor Grizz Chapman, who plays Grizz Griswold in NBC's "30 Rock," in the National Kidney Foundation's Kidney 5K Walk around the main concourse inside Chase Field in Phoenix.
Last June, Perkins, who had been in the hospital for nothing more serious than a broken wrist when he was a kid, donated his kidney to Chapman, 36, who suffered from kidney disease for four years, a condition brought on by hypertension. Diagnosed with high blood pressure about 10 years ago, Chapman was suffering kidney failure, and was going through dialysis three days a week leading up to the transplant. Chapman had been on a kidney transplant waiting list for two years.
While Chapman is in Phoenix as an advocate to the National Kidney Foundation, he and Perkins will get to hang out together for a few days.
"I really had no life before the transplant," Chapman, 36, told the Tribune during a telephone interview last week. "I still did the things I had to do, but I really couldn't plan anything like activity with the kids, basketball practice, plan vacations. I really couldn't do anything that wasn't planned around dialysis. I was living, but life wasn't fun. I'm grateful and appreciative to Ryan."
The walk, which will benefit individuals and families suffering from kidney conditions, is hoped to bring more awareness to kidney disease, the risk factors, warning signs and steps to take that may prevent kidney damage, during National Kidney Awareness Month in March. About 1,000 walkers are expected to take part.
The walk is not an annual event, but this year, the Kidney Foundation of Arizona wanted to step up its awareness efforts about the disease that affects about 600,000 Arizonans each year. About 70,000 people on the transplant waiting list in Arizona are in need of a kidney transplant.
Perkins, who said he really couldn't pinpoint what made him decide to become a donor, began doing research on his own about a year ago, and was tested through the altruistic kidney donation program at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
Realizing he could have a significant impact on someone by donating an organ without much risk or change to his everyday life, Perkins said he thought it was a "cool concept."
"The more I researched it, the more it became something I really wanted to do," he said.
Perkins changed his status from an anonymous donor to a direct donor - and became a match for Chapman.
"I was amazed that it was him, and that he was putting himself out there," Perkins said. "To know I was able to have that kind of an impact on someone's life, was really an amazing experience for me. It didn't really settle in until they were wheeling me into the operating room."
Perkins donated his kidney after flying to a hospital in New York where the two-and-a-half hour procedure was performed. Chapman said he met Perkins about three days before the surgery, and got the chance to know him better.
Chapman said, "I was emotional. I was excited. I wanted to scream. It was exciting to meet someone with that kind of willingness to help."
Perkins said, "It just feels good when I see him. He looks healthier, and he's able to do things he wasn't able to do without being tired or having to worry about doing it around his schedule of dialysis. We stay in touch, and consider each other family."
Chapman, who walks on a treadmill for 90 minutes a day, now hosts fundraiser walks to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation and "Team Grizz" to bring more of an awareness to kidney disease.
During the events surrounding the transplant, Perkins became somewhat of a celebrity himself.
In a documentary to be released at a later date, Chapman chronicled his struggle with kidney disease and dialysis leading up to the transplant. Perkins appears in the documentary.
"Ryan is an amazing person," Chapman said. "When I was his age, I wasn't thinking about giving someone a kidney. How do you ever repay someone for something like that? You can't. It's not like borrowing $20 from someone and telling them you're going to give it back. It's something that you can never repay someone for.
"Ryan gave me my life back."
Information from: East Valley Tribune, http://www.eastvalleytribune.com