LUMBERTON — Despite having a job that carries a constant possibility of danger, Lumberton police Sgt. Shawn Byrd isn’t often scared.
One day about five years ago was different. Byrd, who has been with the department for 16 years, wasn’t chasing a criminal or getting shot at, he was being told he had kidney disease.
“… I sat there and I cried for a little while. It’s scary. Very scary. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Byrd learned he had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis when getting blood work done three weeks before having gastric bypass surgery. The disease causes scar tissue to build up in a person’s kidneys and can lead to kidney failure, as it eventually did in Byrd.
When he first got the news, Byrd refused to have a blood transfusion and later was hesistant to undergo dialysis because of risks associated with both procedures.
Byrd’s mother and wife stepped in. He went ahead with the gastric bypass surgery, hoping it would relieve high blood pressure and high cholesterol that the disease only exasperates.
“I came home on Christmas Eve and my kidneys have lasted me from 2010 up until September of last year,” he said.
Now, with his kidneys functioning at about four percent, Byrd does home dialysis after working 60 to 70 hours a week on the force and doing security for other events. Occasionally his back hurts and he has nerve damage in his left arm where a blood clot due to dialysis had to be removed.
But Byrd remains positive as he waits to get on the list for a kidney transplant.
According to Byrd, the process is expedited if a patient already knows someone with a matching blood type willing to give a kidney, or even someone with a different blood-type willing to join the pool of donors.
Kenny Aubin, who lives in Lumberton, is willing to try.
“You don’t need but one kidney … if I can help, I’d be more than happy to,” he said.
Aubin and Byrd met about a week ago while they were each making their car payments. Byrd was speaking to the owners about his situation, and Aubin, whose wife is in need of a liver transplant, chimed in.
“He said he would like to see what he could do and if he could donate,” Byrd said.
Aubin said it must have been fate.
Aubin joined Byrd at the Lumberton Police Department Thursday to pick up some materials on the testing and qualifications required for a potential donor. If anyone is able to donate to Byrd, his insurance as a city employee will cover his or her medical costs.
“This is not about money, this is just about paying it forward,” Aubin said.
Byrd said he would like to be able to do the same for someone else.
“I’d give anybody the shirt off my back if they needed it …,” said Byrd, who enjoys working with Lumberton’s youth and elderly and playing in the department’s DARE band with his fellow officers.
If he undergoes a transplant, it will likely be the most time he has spent away from the job he loves.
“I get to missing it,” he said. “I love it, I really do. I’ve been in this business 20 years. It’s pretty much all I know.”
Work takes his mind off things, but Byrd has also found a major source of support in his fellow officers.
“They’ve bent over backwards for me, especially the chief (Michael McNeill),” Byrd said. “… Every time I’ve been in the hospital he’s been there every day, two or three times a day. Every time I come out of surgery, he’s been right there by my bedside. I can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Byrd would have to spend at least three weeks in Charlotte, near the Carolinas Medical Center. Being sick for several months last year has put a dent in his paid vacation and sick time.
To help balance the wages he stands to lose, pay for a place to stay in Charlotte and cover post-surgery medications that can cost as much as $300 to $500 for a 30-day supply, Byrd’s mother set up a donation account at the State Employees Credit Union. Anyone can visit the bank and ask to make a deposit to the Debra Jackson Special Account for Shawn Byrd.
“I don’t know what’s in there,” Byrd said. “I told my mom I didn’t want to know. I let her handle all that. But whatever anybody has done or they’re going to do, I’m grateful. I’m very appreciative.” His family is also working on setting up a Kidney for Officer Byrd Facebook page and organizing some fundraising events for the summer.
At first, Byrd was hesitant to make others aware of his illness, and the bill it could incur, until a woman at the hospital convinced him otherwise.
“The lady said ‘you need to tell your story. You never know who it might touch and inspire to help you’,” he said. “I tossed and turned that thing in my mind for a couple of days and I put it on Facebook and the response has been tremendous.”
Byrd is calm and matter-of-fact as he talks about his illness.
“It comes from a place of acceptance. … I believe that [God is] going to take care of me. He said that he would never leave or forsake me and that he would never put no more on me than I can bear, so I’m fine with it,” he said.
Byrd also tries to remain strong for his three children, ranging from ages 8 to 16.
“I want to show them that no matter what you’re going through, you can always continue and go forward. You don’t just have to lie down and take it,” he said.
Which is something Byrd has no intention of doing.
“Pretty much everybody that knows me knows I’m a fighter,” he said. “I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to let it defeat me.”