Bay City man hopes to save 100 lives during 48-state tour promoting kidney donation

Years ago, Brian Martindale tried to donate a kidney to a friend, but found he wasn’t a compatible donor. His friend eventually received a kidney, while Martindale found a mission.

His story goes back to 2012 when Martindale saw a newspaper story about Stacey Schwerin, the mother of a 10-year-old girl desperate for a kidney. A photo in the newspaper depicted Schwerin holding up a sign reading, “Help! My daughter needs a kidney. I can’t lose her!”

Martindale had gone through testing to try to help his friend, so he knew he could donate. He just wasn’t a match for his friend. When he found out he wasn’t compatible with his friend, he continued to look for someone he was a match for, through what’s referred to as a “paired-donor.”

As a paired-donor is someone who is tested to donate to a friend or family member and isn’t compatible. Instead, the donor gives his or her kidney to someone else. That moves their friend or family member up on the list for a kidney.

Martindale wanted to make sure he was able to help his friend because “I saw what he’d gone through, and just watching him go through what he was going through made me want to do more.” 

Martindale called Schwerin. A few months later, he donated his kidney to her daughter, Jessica.

From that point, Martindale made it his life’s passion to help kids get kidneys. He became an advocate for kidney transplants. He advocates personally through traditional and social media. He sometimes used his business, Karma Inc. Apparel, to spread the word about kidney transplants. He serves as a peer mentor for the University of Michigan transplant program. He established a hashtag, #kidneysforkids.

Now, he’s about to begin his most ambitious promotional effort. Beginning with a trip to Ann Arbor this month, Martindale plans a 48-state tour where he’ll stop at 50 transplant centers to promote his non-profit, Kidneys for Kids.

“Right now, there are approximately 96,000 people who need kidney transplants,” he says, and out of those, nearly 10,000 are children. “The focus of my trip is to give children’s stories exposure. In doing 50 interviews across the United States, my goal is to see at least 100 children receive transplants.”

During the trip, Martindale hopes to debunk myths about kidney donations. For example, Martindale explains the process for donating a kidney isn’t difficult. Most donors don’t need to change their lifestyles.

“I’m 9 ½ years out, and I just turned 60 and I do everything I always did before,” he says.

His story illustrates the process. When Martindale met the Schwerins, Jessica was already enrolled in the U-M transplant program. Martindale and the Jessica learned just before Thanksgiving 2012 that they were a match.

To help allay fears people have, Martindale shares his story with groups all around the state, reiterating that “there’s over 50 years of research that goes into a kidney transplant and it’s a very safe procedure.”

Another common concern is the cost. Martindale says the recipient’s insurance pays for testing and surgery. He hopes to use his non-profit to raise funds to help cover ancillary costs, such as time off work and travel.

During the trip, Martindale also plans to promote the Living Donor’s Protection Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021. The legislation will protect people who donate kidneys from being discriminated against by insurance companies or employers.

“It protects your job, without pay, and protects against loss of insurance, and will hopefully make it more viable for people to donate,” says Martindale. He was self-employed at the time of his donation, but so many other people are not.

On his trip around the country, Martindale will also be taking a little of his hometown along. He says he’s working with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce on ways to promote Bay City.

“He will have our Chamber logo on his vehicle on through his journey,” says Breanna Theisen, Chamber Membership Director. “We’re going to do some photos with him to help show off Bay City and diversity,” she says, which will be a way to help Martindale promote Kidneys for Kids.

“I think it’s so cool that even though he’s doing this nationally, that he really does want to focus on ‘This is where I’m from – this is my home,' and 'I don’t want to highlight myself, I want to highlight my city.' ”

Martindale, a lifelong resident of Bay City, says he wants to make it a point as he crosses the country to point out that is proud of his hometown. Theisen says he also secured some sponsors through his chamber membership who he will also promote on his trip.

What he wants to do most of all is to tell the stories of the families who have children waiting on the list for kidneys, and get the word out about transplants.

“This is something that if you do it in your lifetime – I feel I received more of a gift than I ever gave Jessica,” says Martindale.

“Every time I see her, she’s grown up, she didn’t have to go through dialysis, and she got to do all the things that kids do. Up until she got my kidney, she couldn’t even eat a baked potato – she had such a limited diet and very small amounts of fluid. After the surgery the first thing she asked for was a baked potato with butter on it.”

The now 20-year-old recently received a scholarship from the National Kidney Foundation and will be attending Eastern Michigan University in the fall. Martindale says he’s had the privilege of watching her grow up and being part of her life. When they met, he had no idea they lived within four blocks of each other. Through the bond of kidney donation, he’s made Jessica and her mom part of his family.

Although Jessica won’t travel with him on his tour, she will appear with him in some of his interviews, he says. The kickoff to the tour starts where his journey began, at U of M in Ann Arbor. From there, he goes to Cleveland, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and New York. Eventually, he hopes to visit every U.S. city with a transplant center.

Martindale has set up a Go Fund Me page to support his trip and help promote the cause at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-a--kidney-donor--to-help-others, where he also has a link to the video of Jessica’s story.