By William K. Alcorn
Angie and Jeff Joseph have a date July 1.
Jeff is scheduled for kidney-transplant surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.
His wife, Angie, is the donor.
They agree their next significant date, when they are healthy, is a long weekend at the beach.
“We’ve been talking about it. We are definitely beach people,” she said.
Jeff, 51, has been on dialysis for four hours a day, three days a week, since November 2012. A 1980 graduate of Niles McKinley High School, he worked as an account officer at Cadle Co. in Newton Falls.
Jeff had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and diabetes but did not have debilitating health problems until Sept. 10, 2010, when he woke up feeling ill.
Angie took him to their family physician who admitted him to St. Elizabeth Health Center for observation. While there, he suffered a stroke from which he eventually made nearly a full recovery.
“Angie felt something was wrong the day before I had my stroke and took me to the doctor. Because of her I was in the hospital when I had my stroke. She saved my life,” Jeff said.
It was after he was hospitalized in November 2012 with pneumonia that doctors discovered his kidneys were failing. In February 2013, he was placed on the kidney-transplant waiting list at the Cleveland Clinic and told to expect a long wait. After the stroke, Jeff began having seizures.
Not content to wait for a transplant, Angie, against Jeff’s wishes, was tested, and against the odds, was a match.
“Dialysis just wore him out. It was hard to watch,” said Angie, explaining why she wanted to be tested.
Angie, a 1983 graduate of Ursuline High School who is lead medical assistant at St. Elizabeth Family Health Center in Austintown, said she thought she knew about dialysis.
“Its rough. I have a new understanding,” she said.
“Jeff was such an active man and has so much life left to do the things we want to do. We love to travel. He wants to see our daughters, Katie and Sara, graduate from school and get married,” Angie said.
Katie, 20, an Ohio state high school swim champion, attends Gannon University on a swim scholarship. Sara, 15, a sophomore at McDonald High School, plays basketball and competed this year in the state track meet.
While they have the normal concerns about the upcoming surgeries, two things took the Josephs by surprise — the costs not covered by insurance and the overwhelming support of the McDonald community.
Once Angie became the donor, she said the Cleveland Clinic told them to start fundraising. “I was shocked. I had no idea,” she said.
The cost of the surgeries is about $250,000, but Jeff’s anti-rejection medication is $4,000 a month. There are travel and room and board costs, co-pays, and the list goes on.
The McDonald community has come to the rescue, however.
Angie was in the grocery store when Dan Camuso, a McDonald resident, called.
“You are not to worry about a thing. We have a group of people in town who are going to handle the fundraising,” Camuso told her.
“It’s amazing how the community took over and took my worries away. I haven’t had to lift a finger,” Angie said.
A neighbor mows the lawn, and people help with transportation to dialysis and with their daughters.
“There are people from everywhere praying and rooting for us. It helps you get through it when you know people care,” she said.
And they raised money.
Children at the elementary school collected about $1,500 in quarters in a competition to win a pizza party; the high school had a Technology Day, in which they pay $2 to carry their electronic devices, that raised more than $600. Other people had a pancake breakfast that raised $5,000.
Camuso and Brian Fedski of McDonald and others got together and brainstormed on fundraising ideas.
The group used their connections in the sports and business world to get items for a raffle, and in combination with other events, in one day raised nearly $30,000.
Camuso explained his involvement.
“The Josephs are great parents and people. Their kids are similar in ages to mine. Jeff and I coached eighth-grade girls basketball against each other — him in Niles and me in Howland.
“I’m very thankful myself, and my family have our health, and [I] am glad to do it. If I was in a similar situation, I would hope somebody, without being asked, would take it upon themselves to help out. You see somebody struggling, what are you going to do ... sit on the sidelines or help?” Camuso said.
The Josephs’ faith also has been tested. They are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in McDonald.
“There isn’t a day [that] goes by that Jeff doesn’t ask me, ‘Are you sure?’” Angie said.
Jeff asked everybody to say a prayer that he and Angie come through this OK.
“I’m very positive about the surgeries. We didn’t get this far for something to go wrong,” she said.