The odds of a complete stranger being a compatible kidney donor to someone are one in 100,000.
So somewhere in the crowd of 225,000 Hoopfest players, volunteers and spectators in downtown Spokane this weekend are two matches for Jim Filzen.
Filzen sponsored a Hoopfest court and a team to spread the word about his search for a living donor.
He and his family spent the morning Saturday near his court outside the former YWCA on Broadway Avenue giving away bottles of water labeled with his website address, www.akidneyforjimfilzen.com.
Filzen, 63, has lived with diabetes for 20 years. He retired from the phone company now called CenturyLink in 2000 after 27 years. His disease – and the medication he took to control it – damaged his kidneys.
A person’s kidney function must drop below 20 percent to be considered for a transplant. Filzen went below that threshold and has been on the transplant list since August.
“There’s people that wait for a long time,” he said. “I’m just being proactive.”
Right now Filzen gets dialysis three times a week. Each session lasts four hours.
“You’re kind of stuck on a machine,” he said.
His illness saps his energy.
“He’s tired a lot,” said his wife, Bev. “He takes a nap every day.”
His family was tested, but none is a compatible donor, leaving the family to wait for a stranger who has an A or O blood type.
“We are hopeful,” his wife said.
Filzen’s son, Josh, and family friend Jeremy Schmidt handed out the bottles of water and pamphlets about kidney donation.
“We’re definitely giving away a lot of water,” Josh Filzen said. “People’s response has been pretty positive.”
Filzen’s strategy produced some results. As of late Saturday morning, five people said they would be tested to see if they could be matches.
“We’re just trying to get the word out,” Jim Filzen said. “People don’t know there is a need.”
There’s no way to know how long his kidneys will last, Filzen said, but it’s not only his kidneys he has to worry about. The dialysis causes fluctuation in his blood pressure, which puts a strain on the rest of his body. He knows one man who died of a heart attack only days after beginning dialysis. “You just never know when it’s going to happen,” he said.
While he waits for a compatible donor, Filzen is doing his best to live a full life.
“It does cut down on what you can do, but I have a good life with a wonderful family,” he said.
Josh, like the rest of the family, was optimistic despite the long odds of finding a match in the Hoopfest crowd.
“At least we’re spreading the word,” he said. “Maybe it will bear fruit for someone else, which would be nice.”
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