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East TN Kidney Foundation

The Gift of Life

By Sarah Burton

Seven years ago I traded the beaches of North Carolina for the mountains of Tennessee. With my teal Protégé loaded down with my most valuable possessions including my daughter and two cats, I made the trek over the mountains with nothing to guide me except some questionable MapQuest directions.

It was the day before Kindergarten, so I drove that packed-down car straight to Mount Olive Elementary to enroll my daughter, Samantha. With all of the changes taking place in our lives, I wanted to make sure Samantha’s first day of Kindergarten was extra special. She had a new outfit, we had her favorite food the night before, and I prayed for a sweet, loving teacher that would cuddle my daughter through the transition of this move.

The next day, I met Mr. Burton. Mr. Burton was not exactly the “sweet, loving teacher” I’d been praying for. Funny thing though. Samantha adored him and came home from school each day with a smile on her face.

As weeks past I found I was hearing about Mr. Burton quite a bit. I heard stories of how he brought food to a co-worker after she had a baby and how he cooked for a family while the father was deployed overseas. Time and again I heard of his kindness. Eventually I just had to see for myself, so I asked him to dinner.

Dinner was perfect. Easy conversation, laughter, lots of smiling. Halfway through dinner I asked him why he had never married. He replied, “Well, chronic illness tends to scare most women off.” He then told me about his kidney disease that shut down both his native kidneys when he was in his 20’s. He told me about his years on dialysis and waiting for a transplant, which came in 2001. This was a second chance at life for him and the reason he became a teacher. He was so grateful for this chance he wanted the opportunity to give back and make a difference.

Sometime during that first dinner, I fell in love with Mr. Burton. We married the following September. We are now blessed with a four year old son, Edward, and Samantha has just finished the 6th grade. Lewis has been an amazing father to our children. Opening their eyes, and mine, to the beauty that surrounds us and reminding us never to take one day for granted.

When Lewis and I married, I began researching kidney disease, dialysis, and transplant. I wanted to know all I could in order to help my husband live life to the fullest. I am currently President of the Board of Directors for the East Tennessee Kidney Foundation. Our primary mission right now is to provide transportation to low-income dialysis patients. Dialysis saved Lewis’ life until his transplant gave him a new life. We want others to have the same chance he had.

We’ve had an amazing six years. Today, though, we face the reality of his illness. Lewis’ transplanted kidney is giving out. We’ve spent the past few months in and out of the ER, several hospital stays, and numerous lab and doctor visits each week. Lewis needs another kidney. And the children and I need him.

Over the next few months we will begin the search for a living donor match. His first transplant meant a chance to find love. This time it will mean a chance to watch his children grow.

As Father’s Day approaches I find myself wondering what I can possibly give to the man that has given me and numerous others so much. A new grill just doesn’t seem enough. I want to give him endless days hiking in the mountains with our son. I want to give him long Saturday afternoons biking through the park with our children. I want to give him that backwoods camping trip he so desires.

Organ donation truly is the gift of life.

East Tennessee Kidney Foundation Urges Support for Local Kidney Patients’ Daily Needs
Local organization focuses on neighbors in need, combats confusion with national group

In 2010, the local chapter of the National Kidney Foundation ceased to exist, and so did their financial support for the daily needs of East Tennesseans with kidney disease. At that time, a group comprised of local business and medical professionals created the East Tennessee Kidney Foundation (ETKF) to help our neighbors in need.

The transition between organizations has created some confusion among local companies and residents, who may support the National Kidney Foundation fundraising efforts, such as walks, because they are unaware that this organization no longer has a local presence. This confusion is a particular issue because many residents strongly prefer that their donations benefit patients in this area.

“While we appreciate the National Kidney Foundation’s research, advocacy, and education on a national level, we know that many would prefer to support our neighbors in a more tangible way,” said Sarah Burton, board chairman for the East Tennessee Kidney Foundation. “Patients in our region have very pressing needs that, frankly, are about day-to-day survival. The ETKF is here to help them.”

ETKF is a local charitable 501(c)(3) organization that helps local patients with costs for transportation to and from dialysis treatments and provides blankets to make dialysis treatments more comfortable for patients. It also provides patient and caregiver education; facilitates prevention, detection, and awareness of kidney disease; and promotes organ donation. ETKF plans to offer monetary assistance to cover necessary medications or even utility bills as available funding increases.

Burton urges local companies and residents to support the ETKF with donation dollars. “We and our volunteer network are on the ground here to help East Tennessee kidney patients, but we need financial support to do so.”

For more information or to donate, contact ETKF Executive Director, Katie Caldwell, at 865-712-6594 or

About the East Tennessee Kidney Foundation
The East Tennessee Kidney Foundation is a local charitable 501(c)(3) organization that provides patient services and support to East Tennesseans affected by kidney disease and also information and education on the prevention of kidney disease. For more information or to donate, call 865-712-6594 or email

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