College is supposed to be some of the best years of your life. During college, students not only learn how to prepare for their future careers but develop a variety of life skills that will help change and shape the person they become in adulthood. In college, Jerry Taylor of Chicago noticed different changes happening to him.

“I was fatigued all the time and my feet and legs would swell up,” said Jerry. “At first, I thought I was tired from going to class or from the college diet. When my eyesight started to fail unexpectedly, I knew I couldn’t put off seeing a doctor any longer.”

The doctor discovered Jerry’s body was leaking fluid and kidney tests confirmed a diagnosis of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). To prevent Jerry from going into kidney failure, he started taking medication to control FSGS.

In 2008, Jerry graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in business management. At 25, he was no longer covered under his mother’s insurance and stopped taking the medication he was given to control FSGS.

“I felt fine,” said Jerry. “I was young, my body was strong. I felt better, looked better, but going off the medication made things much worse.”

After getting a job with insurance, Jerry decided that he probably should see a doctor again. After running a few tests, the doctor’s office called Jerry and told him he needed to come back for emergency dialysis because his kidneys had completely failed.

The Wait

“I was nervous as I didn’t know what dialysis was,” said Jerry. “I was on dialysis for eight years and it was not an easy process. I really felt like I didn’t belong on dialysis and couldn’t believe this was happening to me.”

Dialysis forced Jerry to change his entire life. Traveling for any length of time was nearly impossible. He had to go on a special diet and couldn’t drink as much water, which affected his ability to play sports or workout with friends.

However, with the support of his family, friends and co-workers, Jerry learned how to deal with spending four hours a day, three days a week on dialysis. Every so often, someone would come forward offering to donate a kidney so Jerry could get the transplant he so desperately needed. However, with a unique O+ blood type, nobody matched Jerry and dialysis continued. This process went on for eight years.

Then Jerry got the call that a kidney from an unrelated deceased donor was available. In February 2017, Jerry received his long-awaited kidney transplant at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.

“Recovery was a hard road but a good road, too,” said Jerry. “I knew that it would lead me to a new life where I could get back to the things I loved like working out, traveling, and just having the freedom to enjoy life.”

On the Road to Salt Lake City

Jerry works out with the UI Health kidney program, a specialized workout program that is geared to reduce inflammation and improve the overall health of kidney transplant recipients. This unique program has helped Jerry gain his strength back in order to participate in the 2018 Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City.

“I wanted to participate in the games because I want to remain active after transplant, change people’s perceptions of what a transplant recipient can do and to share my story so others will register to be organ and tissue donors,” said Jerry.

Jerry’s continues to change the world through his advocacy and support of organ and tissue donation by serving as a volunteer for Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network. In partnership with UI Health, Gift of Hope is sponsoring Jerry to participate in the upcoming games.

“I’m so grateful to the Gift of Hope for giving me this opportunity and supporting me in this way,” said Jerry. “I’m also grateful for my two childhood friends, David and Juan, who will be joining me in Salt Lake City to cheer me on.”

Jerry joined Team Illinois and will be competing in a 5k, bowling, basketball, volleyball, and pickleball tournaments at the Transplant Games.

Attitude is Everything

Despite all the changes Jerry has experienced over the last 14 years, he keeps a positive attitude.

“It’s important for anyone who is waiting to keep up that positive attitude,” said Jerry. “I know it’s hard to keep the faith and pray, but eventually change will come. I’m a living testament of this.”

Jerry doesn’t know the name of the generous donor who saved his life. Although he has never met the family of the donor, he’s hopeful that one day they will be able to meet.

“If I could say one thing to the family of my donor, I would simply say ‘thank you,’” said Jerry. “Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to experience life. I will forever honor and respect this gift.”