“The hospital said, ‘We may have a kidney for you,’ I told them, ‘You don’t have to say anything else–– I am grabbing my bag right now.”
Less than week after receiving a kidney transplant, Harlemite Charles Chuku Cooper, Jr., called the Amsterdam News to break the great news.
Cooper said that he had just come in exhausted from hours on dialysis on April 30, 2021, when he got a late evening phone call. He said he thought it must be a telemarketer, but he picked it up and the caller addressed him by his first name, and asked a number of health questions, and then announced they may have a kidney match.
Cooper said he called his good friend Sidiki Donzo who drove him to Pennsylvania, arriving at the Albert Einstein Medical Center at about 11 p.m.
After more questions and testing, Cooper underwent the life-changing operation.
“Nothing prepares you for waking up and seeing the tubes sticking out from different parts of you, and the catheters. It was very challenging. They have to have the kidney attached to the bladder.”
It is all incredibly physically and mentally challenging. But he adds, “I was very glad to have that team to take care of me––the nurses, the physicians, the top notch staff. The day they pulled out the tubes it was such a relief, but it was very painful.” He laughs as he recalls he kept asking “are we there yet?”
The Albert Einstein Medical Center staff “were very kind, very humble people. I am very glad to have that team take care of me.”
Cooper had signed onto several hospital kidney donor lists including Columbia and Mount Sinai in New York City, and was just waiting for the phone call that one had found a match.
Cooper added that when he first got the news that he had a kidney match from a 25-year-old, he was grateful and immediately thought, “Great! No more dialysis.”
However, “This was the most painful experience in my life,” Cooper declared. Speaking from the Gift of Life Family House, where he is being monitored, and recovering, he added, “It provides lodging for transplant patients.”
Right now, and for the next month, he must endure almost daily several blood draws and tests, because if such tests aren’t taken it “can cause the body to reject the organ…then you start from zero.”
The medical staff will be taking blood work every day for the first month, so he is still under the hospital’s care to ensure “that your body is not fighting this foreign kidney.”
Now, he is learning to get his balance and to walk, and getting over the soreness, and used to masses of medication “to make sure that your transplanted kidney is not rejected by the body.”
The height of it is the first three months making sure that the body does not “destroy the kidney. At the same time, because of all the medication your immune system is weak so certain things your body can’t do. But, as the body adjusts you take less medication; and then you can become even more active in life.”
Asked if he could build up his immune system as he was taking the onslaught of drugs, Cooper explained, “No, because that would be counterproductive. If you were to build up the immune system, it would attack the new kidney, the whole purpose of the drugs is to weaken your immune system so that it doesn’t fight the transplanted kidney, but it means that your immune system cannot fight anything else also. In the first month a common cold can kill you.”
Symptoms that first alerted him to any sort of a serious medical issue last year were, “I lost my sense of taste. I was a little more fatigued than I was used to, but busy folks are usually tired. There was a lot happening, I thought when I have time, I will recuperate and get back to some sort of medium. But it got to a point where I could barely move, so I went to the hospital. They told me it’s a good thing you’re in the hospital, the bad news is your kidney is shot.”
Within 10 days he was slated for dialysis three times a week.
No hints of illness prior he said, except, “I have high blood pressure, had it for several years, but I was on medication. I don’t think it was ever really controlled…it eventually damaged my kidneys. They call it the silent killer. You can feel great and have high blood pressure, until you don’t feel great anymore. But, at that time you have kidney failure.”
Thanking the Amsterdam News profusely for a news article published in December 2020, just days after the surprise diagnosis of renal failure, Cooper said, “Thank you guys. People reached out. That was my goal too to educate people to take the sting out of needing a kidney, some people feeling disempowered so they don’t ask.”
Always pushing advocacy, Cooper said, “I’ve started a blog to discuss inequalities in kidney information and medicine (https://youtu.be/0TGO5y7u6F8). No one really knows until you’re in it. So I created this platform for people to get and share information. I did a lot of research.
“In New York the wait is eight to 10 years for the deceased donor list. If your blessed to get a donated live kidney that is a match, then you can automatically do surgery. That is why I was appealing to our community to see if they were a match, and to see if they could qualify. You may have underlying conditions that would not able you to qualify. Some people stepped up plate, they didn’t qualify for me, but I was adamant and I did not give up hope.”
Speaking on “Back to Basics” on OnevoiceFM.com, “We need to bring awareness because so many Black and Brown folks are on dialysis. You see them in the community––then you don’t see them, and you think they have moved away. But no, they are on dialysis. They constantly live in pain. They stay in the shadows. This is not put out there. So, it’s okay for me to come out and ask people to donate. People may say, this guy shared his story. So if I can come out and change the trajectory, we all of have one life and believe it is about making it meaningful.”
He noted, “Dialysis is so prevalent in our community, and there are so many dialysis centers all over the place. It’s really an epidemic. These places are packed with Black and Brown people.
Dialysis is a horrible journey. The dialyzer cleans your blood, and extracts extra fluid so you don’t drown in your own fluid. For four or eight hours, three days a week you are completely drained, cramping, energy completely drained. You have to sleep for eight hours, so it is very difficult to be productive.
“But, it is pulling your fluid at such a speed that other organs can be damaged. I met people who were on dialysis, and now they have heart problems, and now they are no longer a candidate for a transplant.”
Even though he is currently being subjected to all manner of tests, Cooper is eager to get back to his decade of being active in the community. At one point, the former 2016 City Council candidate. The Uptown-based businessman, told the Amsterdam News, “I call myself a ‘child of war.’” At age 13-years-old, he recalls that he, his mother and two siblings fled a civil war in Liberia and began a new life in the U.S. He has attempted to pay it forward since then.
Inspired by this experience, and his mentor Danlette Norris, as head of the African Advisory Council the ambitious activist has advocated for the city’s 300,000 African immigrants. On his mind still, is working on issues such as gender equality, providing resources, and opportunities for underserved communities of Harlem, USA, and on the continent of Africa too.
The former national spokesman for America’s intervention into the 2015 Ebola epidemic, has been a regular commentator on CNN, and consultant for the United States Agency for International Development on a $50 million project in Liberia.
With his bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering, and master’s degree in leadership and administration, Cooper utilized his skill set working on Columbia University’s $7 billion campus expansion, “with focus on local business inclusion;” and reforming the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit tasked with dispensing millions of dollars to the Harlem community.
Healing, hoping and sharing, Cooper is asking folk to reach out on his platforms. “We can also educate people who are going on dialysis, when I was going on it––I didn’t know what it was, I want people to not be afraid…because we fear we stop ourselves from bringing awareness that can change someone’s life. If you are a healthy person you can consider donating a kidney. You only need one kidney to live. We want to help, share information, stories, and give people a space to share their journeys.”