On the corner of Barrington and Mississippi avenues in Sawtelle, a billboard announces that a guy named Antonio needs a kidney.
That would be Antonio Calderon, a 31-year-old who was diagnosed with the rare kidney disease focal segmental glomerulosclerosis in 2009. He’s been on dialysis for two years, meaning every night he’s hooked up to a catheter to remove waste from his body. Now he needs a kidney transplant.
While you can’t technically buy a kidney, you can buy a billboard asking for a kidney. Ilya Polyakov, Calderon’s friend, raised $5,000 through a GoFundMe to buy a billboard in L.A. to help find a kidney match for his friend. The billboard, in conjunction with a phone number, website, email, posts on Reddit, and the GoFundMe page, has resulted in about 200 inquires, Calderon says.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Calderon says. “It’s surreal and then it’s just cool to know that there’s that many people that seem to genuinely be good people and be caring. You know, none of them know me, but at the same time, they’re touched by the gesture that my friend has done.”
Calderon says about 30 people, including Polyakov, helped buy the billboard—even people he doesn’t personally know. On the GoFundMe page, Polyakov describes Calderon as one of the most generous people he knows and writes that the rare kidney disease has affected every area of his life.
Polyakov says he had tried to donate a kidney to Calderon two years ago, but he wasn’t a match. Wanting to give Calderon the ultimate birthday gift—a kidney—Polyakov started the fundraising campaign.
“Antonio just turned 31,” Polyakov writes on the GoFundMe page. “No one should ever have to go through dialysis, but Antonio has his whole life ahead of him. Because of the dialysis he cannot have a normal social life or a regular job, which forced him to move back in with his parents. Because of the catheter he cannot exercise, for fear of ripping the stitching. It has affected his dating life and self-esteem. He often gets depressed and physically ill. He’s been on the donor list for years.”
Calderon is blood type O+ and can receive a kidney from people with blood types O+ and O-.
“It’s cool to know the effect you have on people can reach past to, like, their families and people who haven’t met you,” Calderon says.
Polyakov says he just wants to make a difference. “There are moments in life when you have a chance to make a difference,” Polyakov writes via email. “After all, that’s what we’re really offering people with this billboard. So I guess this whole thing comes down to that. Taking those chances.”
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