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Elk Creek man needs kidney transplant to survive

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By Shaina Stockton

ELK CREEK — Two years ago, at age 19, Robert Fallon of Elk Creek was greeting life as a young adult.

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Just out of high school, he was employed and living independently for the first time; and like most young men his age, he believed the years ahead would involve career choices, higher education opportunities and other milestones that typically come with early adulthood. But, as it turned out, life had other plans.

“One night about two years ago, I was home and a friend was staying over. I thought I had bronchitis and I went to sleep feeling sick; but when I woke up later that night, I couldn’t breathe,” Fallon said in a recent interview with the newspaper.

Fallon drove himself to the hospital that evening, where he was given the shock of his life: following X-rays and blood work, he was told that he was in end-stage renal failure.

He was then transported to Roanoke for more tests; and a biopsy revealed that he suffered from Stage 5 kidney disease.

“It was a complete shock. I’d never had a kidney infection, or anything that would have clued me in,” said Fallon. “The only symptom I’d ever had was chronic heartburn; and that was written off as acid reflux when I was younger.”

Now 21 years old, Fallon is on a strict schedule, receiving dialysis treatments three times per week. His kidney function currently sits at around one half of one percent; and he has been told that he will not survive without a transplant.

“I do know that a transplant is the only thing that is going to save me. The dialysis, while it’s helping, is just prolonging the inevitable,” said Fallon.

While the situation may have seemed hopeless to some, Fallon’s family came together as he prepared for the fight of his life. Throughout his journey, help has manifested in some unexpected ways.

In recent weeks, Fallon’s story has gone viral as one girl’s plea turned up in colorful ways all across the nation. Colorful rocks began cropping up along the East Coast, and then crept in other directions as the message grew louder: “My boyfriend needs a kidney.”

The painted stones all include Fallon’s blood type, A-, and an email address: amatchforrobert@gmail.com. Anyone who contacts this email can receive information about kidney donations.

“She started painting these beautiful rocks with all of these cool designs, and giving them to people who were traveling to other areas,” Fallon said of his girlfriend, Krystal Sparks.

Taking the message online, the “Rocks for Robert” page on Facebook is quickly gaining a following as people post their “kidney stone” finds from all over the country. Sparks has been joined in the effort by Fallon’s mom, Janet, who is painting rocks of her own.

“This is Robert Fallon. He is 21 years old, blood type: A-, and currently battling end-stage renal failure and end stage kidney disease (FSGS). He is also the love of my life, and he is in desperate need of a kidney transplant in order to survive,” reads a post from Sparks, along with a picture of Fallon. “Robert is registered through the University of Virginia’s transplant center, and is currently seeking a living donor to be his match.”

Fallon confirmed that boxes had been taken east and west — first by friends and family, then later on by truck drivers they’d met who were driving across the country. By now, Fallon said, they were probably all over the United States.

“It’s not even just for my situation at this point. We want to get the word out about the importance of organ donation in general,” said Fallon. “It’s so important and making that choice could save so many lives.”

On top of the medical problems Fallon is facing, he has also been navigating a confusing financial maze. He is unable to work because of his medical issues; and has run into a number of road blocks trying to get financial assistance.

Two years ago, Fallon was told that he was on the deceased donors list; but that he wasn’t eligible for the living donors’ list for insurance reasons.

Recently, Fallon received another shock when he learned that, because of mishandled paperwork, he hasn’t been on either donor list for the past two years.

Because of his age, his work history and other factors, Fallon has not been able to qualify for other assistance such as Medicaid; and he only receives about $15 in EBT funds each month. He also does not qualify for disability, he said.

During the interview, Fallon explained that he and his mother were meeting with medical professionals and insurance companies to figure out their options, and to fix the error and put him on the list for a donor.

In the meantime, Fallon has received help from the Grayson County Department of Social Services (DSS), which offers financial help for unique cases like his, through a special welfare assistance fund.

“Oftentimes, social services receives donations from generous benefactors in our community who want to help families in need; and this money is put into this funding pool,” explained Kristin Shumate, Grayson DSS director. “This money helps citizens in Grayson County who can’t receive help another way.”

Shumate explained that Fallon fell into a financial gap due to his unique situation. The DSS was able to use some of this funding to help Fallon buy groceries.

“Kristin has been absolutely amazing; and this funding is a wonderful resource for people who need help,” said Fallon.

Shumate noted in a statement to the paper that the community can make donations to this fund at any time to help with families in need.

When asked if the public can do anything to help him, Fallon stated that he wasn’t looking for hand-outs.

Rather, he explained that he hopes to spread the word about the financial problems he has hit throughout this process; and possibly make positive changes for others who are going through the same thing. He noted that advice from anyone who is an expert with insurance, financial crisis and medical coverage is welcomed and appreciated.

“This isn’t just about us. This is about others who didn’t know to fight because they were told ‘no’ by someone who was in a position of authority,” said Fallon.

Robert’s mother nodded in agreement. “So many things in the system are broken, and I can’t imagine how many people have succumbed to these types of issues,” she said. “No one should be told when they are facing certain death that they can’t have what is their right.”

Fallon did ask for one financial contribution, but not for himself.

“If there are any churches or organizations or individuals who would like to fund a worthy cause, the fund provided by the DSS is a great option,” Fallon said. “The DSS does a lot to help families who fall through the cracks and are in crisis, but can’t get help for whatever reason.

“And of course, our biggest hope is that others will consider becoming a donor. A normal healthy person only needs one kidney; and each donation has the potential of saving someone’s life,” Fallon said.

To learn more about how to help Robert, or to learn more about kidney donations in general, visit Rocks for Robert on Facebook (@amatchforrobert) or email amatchforrobert@gmail.com. For more information about the Grayson County DSS, and how to help, contact Kristin Shumate at (276) 773-2452 or (276) 236-9541.