Except for his toe, Brian Cherry felt fine. But that troublesome toe was worth a trip to the doctor. It was infected, that much was clear. But after the doctor visit, the problem only got worse and Cherry found himself on the way to the hospital. 

As it turned out, that toe likely saved Brian Cherry’s life. 

“I was admitted to the hospital for my toe, which they ended up having to amputate, and I ended up staying 11 days,” Cherry recalled. “While I was there, I went through a battery of tests, CT scans and biopsies. I was getting therapy so I could learn how to walk better without a big toe and the next thing I knew the doctors started talking about dialysis and kidney failure and transplants.”

Cherry credits the doctors for being proactive while diagnosing his infection.

“They seemed to know that something wasn’t typical about the infection and that is when they involved Dr. [Dawn] Sabau, who became my nephrologist,” he said. “She ran some tests on me and it turned out that both of my kidneys – not just one – were at about 95 percent failure.” 

For Cherry, the news came as quite a shock.

“At first it didn’t really register,” he said. “I was like, ‘Really? I’m that bad off?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, right now you are pretty much in a life-or-death situation.’ She painted a pretty bleak picture.”

Despite adhering to a renal corrective diet for six months, Cherry’s condition worsened and he began dialysis treatments. In addition to being physically taxing, dialysis is an enormously time-consuming process for Cherry as he receives the treatments each Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.

“I have been on dialysis for a year and a half, and it’s been a struggle,” Cherry said. “It’s been difficult. The people at work have been so good and so gracious dealing with what’s been going on and giving me the flexible hours that I need, but it’s one of those things where my bosses don’t really know what I’m capable of because I’ve been so sick.”

Cherry has always been a very active individual, playing basketball and other sports. Being unable to participate in those activities has been one of his biggest challenges.

“I’m only 36 but I can’t shoot baskets without getting winded. I can’t jump. I can’t run. When I come home from work, my legs feel like tree trunks,” Cherry said. “Things you used to take for granted you no longer can do without tremendous effort.

“The funny thing is when I tell people my story, they often say, ‘Well you don’t look sick.’ And I know I don’t, but when you can’t even climb up a flight of stairs without either passing out or your legs almost give way, it can be the scariest thing.”

A kidney transplant is the next step for Cherry, but he must wait for a donor. The clock on Cherry’s wait began ticking the moment he began dialysis. But he does not let that fear dictate his life.

“I have a really good support system. My parents are very supportive, and my friends are very supportive,” Cherry said. “I know it might be another year and half before I get my kidney, but with the people in my corner, I know I’m going to make it.”

The average wait for a kidney donor is two to four years, so Cherry has nearly reached the halfway point. However, there is one sure-fire way to speed up the process and Cherry is hoping for what he calls a “common miracle.”

“I don’t know how many people are ahead of me on the list, but I do know that a living donor can be immediate,” Cherry explained. “So, let’s say somebody tonight decides to go through the rigorous protocol – and it is rigorous – to be a donor. Once they pass that, they can donate as soon as possible so I could have a donor in the next couple months. It’d be a miracle, but one that commonly happens.”

Cherry has a lot he’s looking forward to doing once his health problems are behind him, including doing some traveling.

“I look forward to having the energy to just be able to do the normal things that I used to do,” he said. “Having my old life back basically.”

When that time comes, Cherry knows he will look at the world in a different way.

“In a way, this struggle will be a blessing I think. I don’t think I’ll ever take the little things for granted again,” Cherry said. “I think I will find the joy and the beauty in the everyday that maybe I missed before. I hope that I will be a more positive person because of it.”