Tag Archives: musician

Voices Of Hope: I Donated A Kidney To My Best Friend

Author and professional rock musician James Michael McLester was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in his early thirties. He endured 13 years of regular hemodialysis before his best friend, Laura Suarez McCutcheon, offered to donate one of her kidneys to James to save his life. On December 9, James received the gift of life from Laura.

James Michael McLester living donor HelpHOPELive

Laura donated a kidney to her best friend, James


How did you find out that Laura was a compatible donor?


James: Laura and I were like brother and sister when we were involved in the same music scene in the ‘80s. We lost touch for twenty seven years. In June 2014, Laura sent me a message on Facebook asking about my life. I shared with Laura my new autobiography and a bit of my medical history. At the time, I was dependent on dialysis and I was coping with shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension and severe fluid restrictions. Laura volunteered and was tested as a living kidney donor for me at the Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio, and she was a match.

Laura: I really didn’t think too much about it when I made the decision to get tested. I just wanted to help him. During the months that followed, I never gave it a second thought. By nature, I am a worrier, and I’d never had surgery before, but I knew this was the path God chose for me. I never had one second of apprehension.


What would your future have looked like without Laura’s gift?


James: As a professional musician, I was unable to tour overseas in several countries where dialysis is either unavailable or reserved for extremely wealthy citizens. I would have faced twenty to thirty years of dialysis three times every week. I would have had to endure continued stress and anxiety and an income decreased by 80 percent due to my dialysis schedule.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

James would have faced ongoing health struggles without a donor


How did you feel knowing that she was willing to give the gift of life to you?


James: Before Laura, five different kidney donors were tested for me between 2007 and 2015, and each was unable to donate either because of medical reasons (blood type, health issues) or personal circumstances. After I enjoyed dinner and a long talk with Laura and her fiancé, Chris, we both started to feel comfortable proceeding with the kidney transplant work-up to determine her eligibility to donate. Laura exemplified unconditional love towards me. She is a giving friend to all who know her.

Laura: Once we found out I was a match, we were so excited, I think James was in shock!


Do you two share a special connection now?


James: Laura and I both love the Lord with all of our hearts and realize that He is our source for giving thanks, walking in grace and mercy, and eternally growing in compassion. Everywhere we now travel in this life, we will illustrate a divine portrait of giving and receiving.

Laura: He is my best friend, brother and confidant. Our bond is unbreakable! Our relationship is one of true, honest love and respect.


What is the most exciting part of life after transplant?


Laura: James is very happy post-transplant! He’s making plans and looking forward to his future and the possibilities it holds. I love to see him smile!

James: I can now look forward to touring with my various musical projects, traveling, starting a family, and continuing to share my story for God’s glory.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

James looks forward to touring with several bands post-transplant


Do you still have medical expenses to cover with fundraising?


James: I am responsible for a Medicare supplement policy with an out-of-pocket cost of $385 per month. Thirty-six months after my transplant date, Medicare will terminate my coverage and I will be fully responsible for all transplant-related medical expenses for the rest of my life. The expensive anti-rejection medications I have to take for my lifetime are out-of-pocket expenses that will cost me hundreds or thousands every month. With that said, there’s no guarantee that I will be able to push myself to return to full time work for another few months now that the transplant has happened, so my income is still not what it was before I switched to part time work. That’s why I continue to fundraise with HelpHOPELive even after the transplant.


Laura, would you recommend living donation to someone else?


Laura: I recommend organ donation to everyone. It’s an important decision, and one that must be understood and offered from a place of pure love. It’s an amazing experience! It wasn’t until after our surgery that I really realized, I saved James’ life. Wow! What a gift God has given me! If I had to do it over, I would. Give life! There is no greater gift.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

Laura and the rest of James’ community came together in support


Follow James’s recovery story at helphopelive.org.

How Creating Art Can Help Your Recovery

Art can be a career, a therapeutic exercise, a stress reliever, a way to connect with loved ones or a healthy dose of ‘me-time’ in the midst of a hectic schedule.

In this post, artists identify the health benefits of creativity and explain how you can get involved in art, starting today.

colored pencils


HelpHOPELive client Gail Foster is a professional painter who is fighting spinal cord damage. In this article, Foster explains how art can be used to explore and express intense emotions during a time of medical difficulty.

Foster is joined by Dr. Pooky Knightsmith, a freelance mental health advocate, guest speaker and poet, who delivers her insights on the connection between creative expression and personal wellbeing.

art health benefits Pooky Knightsmith Gail Foster

Artists Gail Foster and Pooky Knightsmith.


 

What are the mental and physical benefits of art?

Foster: Studies have shown that art and music can decrease anxiety, improve emotional balance and even heal your immune system. Art can be a way to commemorate milestones or celebrate your recovery journey.

Knightsmith: Sometimes poetry can be used to express things which are too difficult to say out loud. The act of taking difficult thoughts and feelings and turning them into a poem can feel quite cathartic and can allow us to move on from the things that hold us down.

Gail Foster Golden Wing art

‘Golden Wing’ by Gail Foster.


 

What if I am too busy to fit art into my schedule?

Knightsmith: Art doesn’t have to be something that takes up a lot of time.  I write a poem every day: it usually takes about ten minutes…it can be very beneficial just to have a few minutes each day which are truly your own. Many people find they enjoy those few minutes and can readily find them when they begin to look.

Foster: There are always distractions in our day-to-day lives: “I have dishes to do, I can’t do art right now…I have to finish running errands, I don’t have time to paint.” My best art happens when I make time for it, no matter how small a window of time I’m working with. Give me just ten minutes of that in an afternoon and, wow, that is a great day!

New Page Pooky Knightsmith poetry poem

The poem New Page by Pooky Knightsmith.


 

What are your tips for getting started?

Foster: Whether you are starting out for the first time or getting back into art after an injury or illness, one way to get motivated is to get a group of friends together. Getting together as a group, regardless of the location, can be a motivating factor, even if your chosen mediums are different! Hobby painters, screenwriters, poets, novelists, fine artists…it’s exciting to be together and focus on a common interest.

Wish In Flight Gail Foster

‘Wish In Flight’ by Gail Foster


 

Can art help with healing after an injury or illness?

Knightsmith: While it depends on the individual, many people find that writing, in its many forms, can help them to explore difficult thoughts and feelings that surround their injury or illness. It can help simply to put our thoughts to paper – sometimes the act of writing, whether it’s a list or a play or a story or a poem, can help us to crystallize our thoughts.

Any time I’m unsure about something, I explore it in writing. There are also lots of difficult thoughts and feelings that go hand-in-hand with being a caregiver. Some are positive, some are negative and some are simply tiring. Being able to explore these feelings in words or with art can be hugely therapeutic.

Not all artistic endeavors need to be about exploring difficulties!  Sometimes, art can simply be about celebrating positive moments in your life.

Pooky Knightsmith Recovery Shines poetry poem

The poem Recovery Shines by Pooky Knightsmith.


 

What if I’m not creative or artistic?

Foster: From time to time, everyone asks themselves, ‘Can I do this?’ or ‘Is this possible?’ This inner dialogue occurs over and over and over. It’s really important to find a way to remind yourself (maybe physically) to put those negative or stress-filled voices away. About 17 years ago, I put a blue piece of tape down on the threshold of my art studio. Every time I cross the blue tape, I remind myself to leave my concerns and insecurities at the door. Put yourself there! That’s all it takes! Don’t let your internal dialogue (or thoughts about your potential or lack of potential) drive the process. Be open to everything.

smiley face ball relax zen art

Find a way to remind yourself to let go of your worries before you begin creating art, says Foster.

Knightsmith: If you feel like you don’t have what it takes to create, I’d recommend starting with adult coloring. You end up creating something really beautiful in the end without needing to have an artistic bone in your body.

HelpHOPELive: Our client Kathe Neely is a lifelong doodler and the publisher of a coloring book for adults. She adds, “I think coloring is a fantastic way to test and explore your interest in a creative outlet.  It can be budget-friendly and is wonderfully mobile. I think that the ability to start with a design that is not overwhelming and allows to you see a result fairly quickly can be very satisfying and fulfilling. You would probably find that coloring that first tester page, whether it brings out further interest or not, was a nice mental break — even if it involved just a small portion of your day.  That is an immeasurable “benefit of creativity.” ”

Kathe Neely Late Night Doodles adult coloring grownup coloring book

Sample images from Kathe Neely’s adult coloring book.


 

Do I have to share my art with other people?

Knightsmith: Sharing your work is a personal choice that depends on what you’ve created and why.  Sometimes we create things just for ourselves to help us explore and manage. Sharing art and poetry can also feel like a very intimate thing and can, for that reason, be a great way to develop trusting, caring relationships.

Foster: Whether or not you plan to share your work, put your heart in it, and do it for yourself, not for anyone else. You can give your art away as gifts, share it with the public, share it with just a close circle or keep it for your eyes only. It’s up to you.

friends

Keep your work to yourself, or share it with others. The choice is yours.


If art has impacted your life, share your story with us on Facebook or on Twitter!