Community Owned. Local News. Burke County, NC.

Valdese man seeks 'gift of life' from prospective kidney donors


Valdese resident Jesse Keaton has been looking for the “gift of life” for 10 years. What is that gift? A kidney.

Keaton’s life dramatically changed when he was diagnosed with Stage 3B kidney disease in 2014. Two years later in 2016, his doctor forecast that Keaton had three to four years to live and he started dialysis that December. 

Keaton, 58, has dealt with a host of challenges every day since then, but he wants to continue to live as full a life as he can until he receives that precious “gift.”

Through it all, his family has been his support system. 

One of his biggest challenges is having Type 0 blood which means he needs a donor with the same blood type. Currently, he is two-thirds of the way to being placed on the kidney transplant list with both the Wake Forest Baptist and Atrium Health transplant centers. 

A couple of weeks ago, he reached out to The Paper’s advertising staff to take out an ad in hopes of one thing —  someone, somewhere would be eligible and willing to donate a kidney.

In honor of National Donate Life Month, a listening reporter has instead written this article to help a fellow Valdese resident and father spread the word about his need for a kidney transplant.

Life changed

Keaton has never known another life than living in Valdese nor did his father, grandfather, or great-grandfather — his family line dates back to 1863 in the small town. His home is just 50 yards from the place he grew up. 

After graduating from East Burke High School in 1984, he spent his work life in many fields like cleaning, plumbing, car graphics, ministry, and other careers. He was always picking up a trade and moving on to the next, just wanting to learn more and more. 

His whole life changed when he learned of his Stage 3B kidney disease and started dialysis. He deals with extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, extreme challenges in diet, restricted fluids, and the list goes on. This way of living is not remotely close to a normal life, he said. 

“I know a lot of people who will go and try to apply for disability with whatever handicap they have, and they have to end up getting an attorney,” said Keaton. “With this? No, the government right away, bam! They don’t even think about it. They put you on disability because they know how debilitating it is.”

The working man was no longer able to work, and his wife is now the family’s sole income earners with her cleaning business. 

New kidney, long process

Keaton said getting on the transplant list is a “very stringent process” with many hoops to jump through. 

The transplant centers require him to come in and visit with various people such as lead surgeons, social workers, different doctors, and so forth. They also discuss how he will pay for the follow-up immunosuppressant medications to prevent his body from rejecting the kidney. 

These measures are to show that he will take care of this “gift of life” since there are so few to go around, said Keaton. 

However, a donor must go through the same process to see if their kidney is fit for donation. Doctors analyze whether the person will be able to sustain with one kidney, check their medical history, and perform many other medical examinations.

Keaton has had nine people try to donate a kidney to him, but none passed the various levels of testing. 

He hopes that all the testing will be finished by the end of June, then he can sit down with the transplant team made of nurses, dietitians, surgeons, and social workers. 

“I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but I’m not too far away from death every day,” said Keaton. “A lot of times it doesn’t look like it but you are in such a precarious stage or situation when your kidneys are not working. That has caused a high emotional toll on my family.”

Reaching out

Receiving a kidney transplant would make Keaton forever grateful, but most of all, he wants to help his family who has never left his side and has taken on the same hardships that he has. 

“I want readers to know that my family, ever since I’ve been on dialysis, has been extremely diligent about trying to help me stay as healthy as I can be,” said Keaton. “They notice not just the physical debilitation it causes, but even the mental and emotional strain. It also causes that on them, because now my two children are grown, but they still live at home.”

If you have Type 0 blood and are in good health, you can help Keaton and his family by reaching out to the transplant centers and informing them that you would like to donate a kidney to Jesse Keaton. 

You can reach Wake Forest Baptist at 336-713-5660 or Charlotte’s Atrium Health at 704-355-6649.

Saydie Bean is a general assignment reporter for The Paper. She may be reached at 828445-8595 or via email at