Join Team Jimmie Briggs!
I got lucky when I met Jimmie. The kind of guy who is rumored to exist, but who no one you’ve met has ever really seen. Like Sasquatch. Only, the thing that makes Jimmie unique isn’t his how big he is (though he is) or how hairy (though he was – we took care of that), but how good. How really, really good Jimmie is.
As you all know, Jimmie has dedicated his life to helping others. He co-founded Man Up Campaign, an international nonprofit to end violence against women and girls, spent nearly a decade researching and writing a book about the abuse of child soldiers, and wrote countless articles about trauma, poverty, juvenile violence and what we can do to protect our country’s youth.
His entire adult life, he has been working 24/7 for others—for his daughter, for his friends, for the countless people in need that he doesn’t even know. And somewhere in the midst of it all, caring for himself fell away.
Literally the day after Jimmie received the GQ Award for the Better Man, Better World Competition for his work, he had a heart attack and his kidneys failed.
Jimmie has spent the last 3 ½ years on dialysis—painfully crippling, exhausting dialysis—which patients can only survive on for so long. But that hasn’t stopped him. He continues to stay positive, and to inspire each of us every day.
Though many of us may have wanted to give Jimmie a kidney in order to end his pain, and ultimately save his life, only one stepped forward, was tested, and proved to be a good match. A frequent journalistic collaborator and twenty-year friend of Jimmie’s, his name is Damaso Reyes (the man who took the gorgeous video above!). And now the surgery that we all thought might never happen...is happening August 26!
Immediately after the surgery, Jimmie will need to take a battery of medications to ensure that his body doesn’t reject Damaso's donated kidney or succumb to vicious life-threatening infections. Some of these critical medications are not covered by insurance, and the hospital estimates that these uninsured medications alone will cost several tens of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, Damaso is a photojournalist who lives in Spain, but arranged his schedule so he could come to the United States, give Jimmie a kidney, and spend approximately 2 months here undergoing the intensive recovery process that follows surrendering a major organ. He’ll go back to Spain afterward, but he’ll need to return to the United States several times over the coming year for follow-up tests that ensure he is functioning well without the kidney. Damaso isn't asking for much, but he does need money to cover his trips back and forth from Spain, and money for recovering from surgery here in NYC.
That's where we all come in. :) Though he would never do it himself—Jimmie isn’t one to ask for help—I’m writing this post because if he is going to survive, the man who spent his life helping others needs our help…now. Damaso stepped up without being asked out of deep mutual love and respect for Jimmie, in a BIG WAY.
Now it’s our turn to step up, to support Jimmie so we can ensure that his body accepts Damaso's gift, and to help support Damaso for his phenomenal gift of friendship. Please, donate today and help keep the man that I love—so many people love—alive.
For updates on how Jimmie is doing as he goes into and recovers from his surgery, please visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jimmiebriggs. He has already started posting daily journal entries there, and I have to say, they are moving, inspiring, thought-provoking--all the stuff of Jimmie Briggs.
By Jimmie Briggs
I met Pastor Marrion seven years ago, while still a journalist,reporting a story on sexual violence against Congolese women and girls in the eastern part of the country. Pastor Marrion has assisted so many journalists,humanitarians and donors visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo to understand the true narrative of the savage conflict wracking his country for more than a decade, now. We spent two weeks together, one time, and though I have not physically seen him since then, we have sporadically remained in touch over the years. My colleague on the trip when Pastor Marrion and I met, award-winning photographer Marcus Bleasdale has been working with another phenomenal human being--author Bryan Mealer--to support Pastor on his incredibly difficult medical journey.
A year and three months ago, I was blessed to undergo a kidney transplant after four years of painful hemodialysis. Three days a week for fours a session at a time, I went to Mt Sinai Hospital here in New York to have needles connected to a “dialyzer” punched into my arm so that a man-made machine could do what my body no longer could, keep me alive.Without the unparalleled gift of a healthy, new kidney given to me by my bestfriend, the indomitable Damaso Reyes, I wouldn’t be here. Damaso stepped up to save my life, when no other person did to give up a piece of himself.
Parallel to receiving a new kidney hundreds…no,THOUSANDS of people—many of whom I never met—raised money help me pay for the post-transplant care and medications I needed.
In the time since my surgery, I have regained a health and physical capacity which I probably haven’t had since I was in college! Wanting to honor the friends, family, colleagues, and lesser well known Samaritans who answered my call for affirmation, for support, for prayers, I’ve tried to continue doing the most fulfilling work. To serve others and “make a difference” however I can. My hope is that the journey I’ve led since my surgery, and call for help a little more than a year ago, honors everyone in my life and circle of support.
Now Pastor Marrion, a Congolese soldier for peace and reconciliation, needs my help and that of so many others.
Needing an organ transplant is difficult enough. Countless people here in the United States,and globally, die on dialysis waiting for a donation, transplant. More simplydie without the dialysis, without the fantasy of a healthy kidney. I had access to dialysis. I had access to medications. I had a community of colleagues and friends around me who carried me, literally at times, when I was too tired, hurting too much.
In eastern Congo, where Pastor Marrion lives and stays—when he could have left a long time ago—with his wife and children, there’s not dialysis center. There are no social workers tohelp him navigate an organ transplant system. There are no pharmacies which stock the life-saving medications and resources he needs to stay physically healthy and alive, even after this transplant.
But he stays because he’s answered a call to serve his country, his community…his people. For him, the most immediate risk is not perishing at the hands of a soldier, or armed, hostile person in the midst of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For Pastor Marrion, the greatest risk is dying—when he could easily be saved—in a Ugandan hospital.
My brother, is in Kampala receiving weekly dialysis.His donor, Elysee Pifwa, is in the eastern Congolese community of Bunia,waiting for her cholesterol levels to go down so she can be in the best health to donate on of her kidneys to the Pastor.
Bryan, a native Texan who did “the New York (Brooklyn) thing,” is back in his home state now for several years, with a wife and children. He, nor Marcus, forgot Pastor Marrion and through the Congo Kids Initiative, continue to support the community in which Pastor Marrion lives, and his work.
Living in a country and space of over-abundance, over-privilege, over…EVERYTHING, I look out the window in Pastor Marrion’s direction to a place where everything is so precious and imperiled, including life itself.
The monies needed to facilitate Pastor Marrion’s care, as well as Elysee’s, is nominal in the larger scheme---$35,000. That’s what he needs to have his surgery, and receive the post-transplant care and medications needed to keep him doing the work that fulfills him and serves his purpose.
The word “hero” is so diminished, especially in Western, American society. Athletes and other celebrities paid millions for their moments in the spotlight are called the term for scoring a goal, or taking on an “edgy” role. Too easily, we don’t see or honor the heroes in front of us, and around us. Those who do the work, spend the time, make the sacrifices the majority of us can’t, or won’t.
Bryan Mealer, Marcus Bleasdale, Leslie Thomas and the Congo Kids Initiative are among the most heroic individuals I have ever been honored to meet, in a life’s journey of meeting thousands of people as a documentary journalist.
Pastor Marrion P'Udongo is a hero.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “hero” simply as “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.” By that or any other definition, Pastor Marrion meets the criteria.
Today, tonight and tomorrow as we share bountiful meals with family, neighbors and friends; as we watch our children tear open presents large and small; as we watch a repeat of last year’s NBA Finals Game with the Golden State Warriors facing the Cleveland Cavaliers; or as we kneel in prayer and reflection at our bedside or midnight mass, I ask that we say a prayer for Pastor Marrion, Elyse and their families but also give what we can to help Pastor get the transplant operation he needs…which would by any definition be its own “Christmas miracle” for everyone who knows him and his works.
Please go here: https://www.generosity.com/medical-fundraising/the-pastor-marrion-fund--6,to learn about Pastor in his own words, and see the NBC piece just done by Cassandra Vinograd, a friend and colleague of Bryan: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/schindler-congo-marrion-pudongo-now-need-saving-n484401.
At a time of love, hope and fellowship regardless of your beliefs, let us answer the call for help from a messenger who embodies all the above.
It has been just over 2 weeks since the surgery. Both Jimmie and Damaso are recovering well, Jimmie’s mom—who was here from St. Louis helping us for the past 10 days—flew back home yesterday, and I am slowly getting back on the grid.
To say that I—that all of us—have been overwhelmed by your support since we launched this site three weeks ago is an almost embarrassing understatement. Jimmie and I have had many a long late night conversation about the intensity of this feeling we all share, this rather new feeling of receiving. A few hours after the GoFundMe site went live and the first gifts came in is when I first felt it—the swelling of emotion, the rush of warmth, the tears rushing to my eyes.
So, I thought to myself. This is what it feels like to receive. To really really receive.
Thank you. For giving. For helping us reach our goal. And then for keeping on giving. Until the drugs and Damaso’s costs were paid for, and then the insurance bills, and then the co-pays, and then the travel costs, and so on and so on. Every gift dispelled another of my unspoken fears that we might not make it. Now I feel it in my bones: We will make it; we are making it.
So I wanted to take a moment to reach out and tell you, we’re good. We have enough now, my dear friends. Because of YOU, we have enough.
At the bottom of this update are two photos. The first is of Jimmie in the hospital with the stuff animal his daughter and I gave him, a squirrel named “Rocky.” The second is of Jimmie at the coffee shop with me earlier today, one of his first outings since the surgery. When I looked over and saw that he had brought Rocky to the coffee shop and was petting him while he worked on his computer, I couldn’t help but laugh—obviously—and snap a picture.
Jimmie also wrote a thank you message, which I posted below. I encourage you to take another moment to read it.
Well…..it’s been 15 days since the transplant surgery, ten days since returning home from the hospital and one day since my mother went back to Missouri. (Thanks for the great home-cooking while you were here, Mom!) Since coming home, I must confess that I’ve really be on an “emotional pause.” So much still physically hurts right now that I don’t even feel capable of processing all the emotions I carried over from before the transplant, coupled with those borne afterwards. Yet, I do remain humbled and profoundly grateful to the scores of people (381 and counting) who gave to the “Team Jimmie’ fundraising effort on GoFundMe, and to everyone who has supported me in a million other ways. So many have played a critical role on this team.
We’ve raised more resources than any of us ever imagined, certainly me.
At this point, Linda, myself, Damaso, and Diane cannot ask for anymore, as we’ve well exceeded our initial goal(s). Your support has been extraordinary.
Saying “thank you” seems so underwhelming, because the well of gratitude and love I feel for those 380+ people runs so infinitely deep. For those who gave anonymously, and those who didn’t, I will never forget what you did for me and Damaso, as well as Linda and Diane. I’ve begun to look at it as an endorsement of the lives we’ve lived, the ways in which we interacted with individuals personally, and the impact our collective work has had on others.
I feel proud. And I feel unceasing tidal waves of love. And for myself, I feel even more inspired to not only live the life ahead of me with passion, social commitment, and joy, but more importantly to honor this gift of a new kidney from Damaso by taking care of it and my overall health as diligently as possible.
I want to continue keeping you updated on our progress (mine and Damaso’s) through this phase of our journeys. Thankfully Damaso is recovering well, and rapidly; so much so that he and Diane are on a badly needed getaway in Cape Cod till next week.
With my mother back in St. Louis now after staying in our guest room for the past week and a half, Linda and I soldier on with me grudgingly accepting my bodily limitations a relatively short time since the surgery, and Linda sweetly-but firmly-keeping me on track with my diet, water intake, and rest periods. (Like I wrote a short while ago, she’s the best “Florence Nightingale” anyone could have.)
When the initial flow of donations came in to the “Team Jimmie” site, I really struggled with it to be honest. I felt…..pressure: to do something amazing in the world moving forward; to try and live a life without fault, regret, or damage to others; to be as “perfect” as I could be so as to earn, or truly “deserve” the generosity of so many people, a number of whom I’ve never even met.
Two weeks after my life changed and hemodialysis treatments were put in the rearview mirror with the transplant operation, I now know that the best “thank you” is simply to live as well as I can, staying open to figuring out what that means on the journey ahead, and keeping those who are behind me still on dialysis, awaiting a transplant, or recently succumbing to kidney failure like I did---in my thoughts and prayers. (And for that matter, anyone who is suffering)
Jimmie and Damaso went into surgery early yesterday morning (the photo below is of them less than an hour before they went under - adorable), and now they are both in full recovery mode. ☺ Jimmie is still in the recovery room under close watch as the surgery took a real toll on his body, but we’re hoping and praying that he will be released soon to the regular floor so he can hang with Damaso who is up, walking, and looking great.
Some of you have asked us how much money we would need to cover all the costs associated with the surgery since you all KILLED IT when it came to raising money for Damaso’s travel and recovery costs, as well as the medications necessary to prevent Jimmie’s body from rejecting Damaso’s kidney. The answer, to the best of our knowledge, is $48,000. This includes costs that we didn’t even try to fund raise for originally because, honestly, we had no idea just how much you—our beloved community—would show up. Costs like cab rides to-and-from doctor appointments as Jimmie’s doctor told him not to ride the subway for 3 months as his body is so susceptible to germs as a result of the immune system depressants, etc. Every extra dime raised will go to these various needs.
We are so grateful and overwhelmed by the love-love-love demonstrated over the past week. THANK YOU! Your gifts—financial, spiritual, and energetic—have allowed us to breathe a little more easily during this crazy time.
I want to leave you with a beautiful piece that Damaso wrote on giving. In it you can see just what kind of man he is (if his donation hadn’t said enough).
It's easier than receiving for most of us, let's just get that out of the way first. To give is to be lauded. To give is to have power. To receive, or rather more accurately to be in need, is to be weak and often powerless. When we give we feel generous. Afterall, they don't name buildings after those who have asked but rather after those who have, mostly after being asked, have given.
None of this makes giving any less important or necessary. It's just to say that having to ask, as any of us who have been in that position can attest, is unpleasant. Who doesn't want to feel needed? Who doesn't want to feel as though the choice we make can save someone in however small a way?
This is a defense of receiving.
I have asked and I have received in my life. I have received without asking as well. And of course I have asked and not received. And for that I am a better person. To ask is to be weak. To ask is to be vulnerable. To ask is to acknowledge both to yourself and the person of whom you ask that you are in need.
To ask is to confront your own limitations. It is to accept your humanity because in fact we are only human in relation to one another. This means we, at some point, will be in need. No matter what the need is objectively, whatever that means, in that moment it is everything to the person who is asking.
To receive is to be delivered from the belief that we can live this life alone. It is a reaffirmation of who we are at our very core: interdependent.
It is a hard lesson to learn: that we exist not just for each other but because of one another. None of us would be here but for someone else. To understand this is one thing; to know this is quite another.
So we stand amongst each other. Giving and receiving in turn. Being grateful when we receive and feeling grateful to be able to give. We grow in the shade of one another and smile that we have had this time together.
And in the end we learn that all we have is the ability to give and take. Realizing in the end that they are, in fact, the very same thing.
Your story is very touching. After reading the description of your character, you remind me so much of my own father. I particularly liked the "This is a defense of receiving" and "On Giving", they were very eye-opening. I'm glad you got the help you needed! Stay strong!
My prayers go out to you and your family,
If you need healing call 719-635-1112/awmi.net
Jimmie, I wish you both the best of luck on this very important day. I too had a kidney transplant on feb 18, 2014, thanks to my best friend since Kindergarden. Since my surgery, my family and I have started a not for profit organization to help match donors with recipients. You can view the website along with our story at livekidneydonation.org I was truly touched by your story, and I would be honored to hear more. Please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions about post transplant. We've been through it all! Take care Mr. Briggs, God bless and I wish you and your donor the best of luck on your first day back to a normal life! Sincerely, Michael Machado (951) 237-4964 Mike.firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations from someone who spent 13 years on dialysis, had someone step forward and donate, takes thousands of dollars of medication each year, and all without a cent from anyone else! God bless you. I wish you good health!