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Friday
Sep272013

Connecticut Teacher Turns to Facebook in Search of Kidney Donor

Courtesy Brad Vernet(NEW YORK) -- A Connecticut seventh-grade science teacher and father of two is hoping that Facebook will help him find a potentially life-saving kidney.

Brad Vernet, 48, has had kidney disease for 20 years and was born with just one kidney.  In the past year-and-a-half, his kidney function has dramatically decreased.

At a July 24 evaluation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, he discovered that his function was at 17 percent.  On Sept. 13, he was at 14 percent.

"That was a shock but then pretty soon you realize that if you're just kind of feeling badly about your situation, it's not going to help anyone," Vernet told ABC News.  "If you want to get the word out, you have to be an advocate for yourself."

He decided it was time to "really get moving and try to find a donor" before reaching 10 or 11 percent function, at which point he said he would have to start thinking about dialysis, which he hopes to avoid.  His doctors believe he needs a kidney transplant within a year before he reaches that point.

Vernet didn't have a personal Facebook page but decided to turn to the social network to get in touch with family and friends through a private page as he began a search for a donor.  About three weeks ago, a friend advised him to make the page public so that he could spread the word to more people and the "Help Find Brad a Kidney" page was created.

"Brad Vernet, a 48-year-old husband and father of two, needs a kidney transplant. He has been diagnosed with Stage 5 Kidney Disease," reads the Facebook page's description.  "Brad's family and friends and colleagues are helping him search for a live donor. Could it be you?"

Soon enough, strangers started leaving messages of support, sharing their own stories and offering to help.

Vernet is only allowed to give potential donors very limited information, such as his blood type, and then has to refer the people to Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"I don't know until they find a really, pretty close match," he said.  "They won't give me any information."

Vernet has a wife, Katy, who is a first-grade teacher, and two children, Emmye, 16, and Martin, 12.

"We've talked about it.  Generally, they're doing okay," he said of his children.

"We're at the stage right now where my daughter is a junior so she's looking at colleges, so this is an active, important part in our family's time," Vernet said.

Vernet said he tries to avoid thinking about the moment he finds a matching donor.

"I have a contact person at the hospital who's my first person, a nurse on the transplant team.  If I see her number on my phone, you think in the back of your mind, 'Is this the call that they found a match?'" he said.

"I'm sure I'm just going to be unbelievably emotional when that happens," he added.

For now, he is focusing on maintaining a positive outlook and being thankful for the "unbelievable" support.

"I'm just grateful that the response has been so strong and that really gives me a lot of hope and comfort," Vernet said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio