Catonsville man to descend from hotel to raise money for National Kidney Foundation of Maryland

A fear of heights usually keeps Billy Stapleton grounded.

Only once in the past dozen years has the Catonsville resident ever flown on an airplane and that caused the same reaction he usually has when he confronts his fear: his body temperature rose and he perspired.

On June 9, Stapleton will do something that might give even the most-vertigo-resistant people pause.

The 27-year-old will rappel down the 32-story Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel to raise funds and awareness for the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland.

"It's kind of 'cross the item off your bucket list' kind of thing and a way to conquer my fear of heights," Stapleton said.

Stapleton decided to take part following last year's event in which participants descended from the 17-story Canton Crossing Tower.

Much to Stapleton's initial dismay, the distance for this year's third annual Rappel for Kidney Health will be nearly double that.

"At the time, I didn't think it was going to be as bad as it's going to be," said Stapleton, who found out the height of the building after he signed up.

To rappel, each participant must raise $1,000.

As of May 30, Stapleton had raised $1,100 by having friends and co-workers donate money through a website set up by the National Kidney Foundation.

The money raised supports patient services, education and research efforts, the release stated.

In 2010, the most recent year data was available, more than 20 million Americans age 20 or older — about 10 percent of the population — had chronic kidney disease, according to the website of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

"Not to take anything away from other illnesses or other diseases, but it's really not something talked about," Stapleton said of kidney disease. "I feel like kidney disease ranks up there right with anything else."

He should know. Six years ago, Stapleton received a kidney transplant.

That made him one of 18,059 Americans who had undergone the operation, according to the website of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health

Stapleton's mother, Theresa Thomas, provided the organ.

She recalled how, seven years ago, her son had complained of a headache for weeks but never went to a doctor.

When they took him to the hospital, blood tests showed his kidneys had less than five percent of their function, Thomas said.

The next day, her son had a catheter in his chest for dialysis.

"Looking back on it, there were signs, but we had no idea," she said, noting that he had complained of back pain and swelling in his ankles before the headaches.

In September 2005, Stapleton began a 14-month cycle of dialysis during which he spent four hours a day, three days a week, receiving dialysis treatment that he scheduled around his full-time job.

"I was supposed to be going out and having fun with my friends," Stapleton said comparing his life to that of other 21-year-olds. "But on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I was hooked up to a machine while everyone else was going out."

In January, 2006, Stapleton went to University of Maryland Medical Center with his mother, younger sister, his friend Tara, now his wife of two years, and three other friends to see if any were suitable for a transplant.

"On Valentine's Day, each one of us slowly but surely started getting phone calls," said his mother, a Severn resident. "All six of us found out that we were a match."

But that joy quickly turned to despair as all six were disqualified for various reasons.

"When people started getting eliminated one by one, it was an emotional roller coaster," Stapleton said.

He noted the reasons for their disqualification provided them with important news about their health they wouldn't have received otherwise.

Eventually doctors re-tested Thomas. On Dec. 27, 2006, a date both Stapleton and his mother rattle off without thinking, she donated a kidney to her son.

Though his body initially rejected the organ — typical in transplants — and his required medications have taken some getting used to, Stapleton said his recovery has gone well.

He's ready to rappel down a building and by doing so raise awareness about kidney disease.

The first two events put on by the Maryland chapter of the National Kidney Foundation drew 135 participants and raised $180,000, according to a release from the foundation

Stapleton's mother rappelled down the Legg Mason building in the Harbor East neighborhood of the city at the inaugural event.

"It was just something that I felt I needed to do," Thomas said.

The most difficult part of the event was just getting started.

"You go over the edge of the building and you got your toes on the edge," Thomas said. "You're putting all your trust in the ropes."

Part of her motivation to rappel the building two years ago was knowing her son was at the bottom of the building, waiting for her.

This year, mother and son will rappel the building side-by-side.

"She was able to donate to me. She was able to change my quality of life," Stapleton said. "It's definitely going to be rewarding."

Any emotional exchanges will likely have to wait until after both have made it to the bottom, however.

"I'm pretty sure the only time I'm going to look over at her is right before, and once down," Stapleton said. "I'm not sure there's going to be much conversation between us on the way down."


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