Eric Bailey faces death on a regular basis through his job as an investigator for the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office. But he was left stunned in September 2018 when he found out he could be facing in his personal life as well.
Bailey, 47, had been feeling tired on a frequent basis. Then he started to notice that whenever he ate something or drank a soda or fruit juice, it didn’t taste the way it used to.
He was also experiencing a pain in the right side of his chest. After doctors examined him, they determined he was experiencing kidney failure.
“It was devastating,” he said. “Of course, I went into a state of shock and all I could think about at that time was ‘I’m on my death bed.’”
Bailey is looking for a kidney donor so he can get a transplant. He has been on the transplant list for roughly two years, but a donor has not been identified for him yet.
Bailey said he initially had acute kidney failure which, after several tests, was determined to have been the result of high blood pressure. It has since progressed to chronic kidney failure.
“Acute is just that I have the signs of kidney failure, which is not crucial or anything to that nature, but when it is in the chronic stage, if I didn’t seek treatment then, I probably would have been dead two years ago,” Bailey said.
When Bailey was experiencing the symptoms, he first went to his primary care doctor, who had his blood tested. She called the next day and told him he was facing a life and death situation because his creatine levels were high, and he needed to go to a hospital.
He ended spending three weeks in the hospital.
“I went to the emergency room that night that she (the doctor) told me to go, and of course, they tried to get my creatine level down with fluids and everything, which didn’t work,” Bailey said. “The next morning, the doctor came in and told me I was in kidney failure and since the fluids didn’t work, I would have to be put on dialysis.”
He was initially put on hemodialysis but was told he had the option to go on peritoneal dialysis later on. Hemodialysis involves filtering the blood and would have required Bailey to go on disability — which he did not want to do because he wanted to continue doing work at the medical examiner’s office — while peritoneal dialysis is something he can do at night after he gets home from work.
In peritoneal dialysis, a machine injects a chemical called dextrose into the body through the abdomen. Bailey has to do the treatment in cycles.
“It dwells for — they have the time set for an hour and 15 minutes on each cycle and then drains out,” Bailey said. “Then when it drains out, more fluid goes in and then it drains out. I do seven cycles which can mean a total of 10 hours on the machine every day.”
Bailey isn’t searching for a donor on his own. His coworkers at the medical examiner’s office, where he has worked for five years, are also raising the flag on his need for a kidney transplant.
Shannon Volkodav, who joined the medical examiner’s office in January after spending years serving as the Gwinnett sheriff’s office’s public information officer, is helping in that effort.
“I’ve been trying to get the word out for the last two years, but I didn’t know how, so Shannon said she has a lot of contacts that she could talk to and will be an advocate for me,” Bailey said.
Volkodav said Bailey is an inspiration to his co-workers because of the fact that he “in the fight of his life” and goes to work during the day only to go home to do dialysis at night.
“It’s pretty grueling for Eric to be on dialysis for 10 hours at night and then get up in the morning and come to work and work a full-time job,” Volkodav said. “So Eric is an inspiration to a lot of people who recognize the challenges he’s facing and how exhausting it must be for him to maintain the schedule he’s keeping.
“I asked him a couple of weeks ago, ‘Why are you still working full-time if you’re on dialysis for 10 hours at night? I know you can’t be getting good sleep when you’re hooked up to a dialysis machine?’ And, he said that if he stayed home, he would really stay focused on his illness and the challenges he’s facing, and he felt like it would affect his emotional wellbeing and so he chooses every day to get up and come to work.”
Bailey said there are some requirements a person must meet to be a match for him as a kidney donor. One is the potential donor has to be a blood match. Bailey’s blood type is A-positive, so he said someone who has type A or O blood would be a match.
The donor also has to be healthy, which means someone who has diabetes, hypertension or other types of chronic conditions could not donate their kidney.
Anyone interested in possibly being a donor for Bailey can contact Emory Healthcare at 855-366-7989. Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga also has Bailey on its transplant list. Erlanger can be contacted at 423-778-1234.
Bailey said potential donors must provide information, such as his name and his birthdate — which he said is Dec. 4, 1973 — when contacting Emory or Erlanger about being a potential donor for him.