Life-Saving Transplant, Life-Saving Trips: John’s Story

Story by Scott Morton


John Knapp’s life changed the day that he found out that he had kidney failure due to years of diabetes and high blood pressure that he’ll admit he neglected. Like thousands of Americans, Knapp signed up for the the National Kidney Registry hoping for a donor. One year ago doctors found one for him. He was overjoyed that he would no longer have to endure kidney dialysis three times a week; each time hooked to a machine for four hours. “It takes a lot out you,” Knapp says. “They say it’s equivalent to running a 26 mile marathon.”


John Knapp stands beside his daughter Andrea who donated one of her kidneys to her father in February. The transplant helped improve John’s quality of life tremendously.


The 55 year-old Rockford native relied on his then 73 year-old neighbor to get him to the clinic a few miles away from his home and  his wife Debbie to pick him up. But after six months, Debbie received training to perform dialysis on John at home. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says. Performing kidney dialysis daily improved not only John’s quality of life, but his chances of survival since the nearly one hundred pound machine filtered the toxins out of John’s blood more frequently.


Two weeks before the surgery doctors did an biopsy of John’s donor’s kidney and learned that she had Berger’s Disease and couldn’t be a donor.


For four months his 22 year-old daughter Andrea saw how difficult it was for her mother to care for John in between working ten hours and raising a 13 year-old son. In February, Andrea found out that she could donate a kidney to her father. “We were jumping up and down when they called that we were a match,” she says. “It was the last chance for us because it gave us hope.”


John knows how fortunate he is as month after month he’d hear of people at the dialysis clinic that he went to dying for lack of a kidney donor even though more than six thousand living donors in the United States donate kidneys every year without risk. “I’m blessed,” John says. “It’s all been God’s purpose.”


Now John gets help from the American Red Cross to and from doctor’s appointments for infusions of a drug that keeps his body from rejecting his daughter’s kidney. “Thank God for the Red Cross,” he says. “Kathy’s such a super lady. She really helped me up.” Kathy is the transportation coordinator for the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids.


In 2013, the Red Cross Transportation Services in Kent County drove clients more than 394,000 miles.


Knapp is just one of more than 1,200 clients who receive transportation services from Red Cross volunteer drivers in Kent County each year. In 2013, about 100 volunteers drove more than 394,000 miles to get qualified residents to and from important appointments. That’s enough to go around the world sixteen times.


To learn more about the Transportation Services program at the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids, visit


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