by Latoya Burnham
His kidneys might be failing, requiring him to have dialysis for the rest of his life if he does not get a transplant, but Barbadian entertainer George Jones is anything but daunted.
In fact, his bubbly spirit and zest for life was so overflowing, even in a long-distance interview over the telephone, that it was easy to see why the who’s who of Barbados’ entertainment community would be so willing to donate their time to a concert to raise the funds to ensure George gets his new kidney.
Residing in the Cayman Islands, and with a concert planned in New York over the Labour Day weekend on Sunday, September 1 at the Tropical Paradise Ballroom in Brooklyn, George said he was overwhelmed by the support his friends were showing.
Big names for the concert include Sweet Soca Monarch and George’s close friend, Blood, along with fellow Soka Kartel Party Monarch champ, Mikey; his former Square One band mate, Alison Hinds; close friends Red Plastic Bag, Gabby, Biggie Irie and more.
George said he believed his luck in having so many of his colleagues donate their time stems from his own life spent giving back when he lived in Barbados.
“It’s a humbling experience. All my life I have been giving and helping people,” he said recalling how he sponsored children in his neighbourhood especially for “back-to-school”, providing books, stationary, school clothes and other items to the less fortunate.
“I believe in this day and age, if you don’t help one another … because there is only so much that you really need. All of this is a manifestation of seeds of goodwill that I would have planted. I don’t expect anything, but the beautiful thing about this is that I have never once had to come and ask anybody for anything. I am not suffering but I welcome all the help and support I can get,” he said.
George’s situation is as amazing as it is unfortunate. His spirit is indomitable, given that he now lives by the grace of dialysis, where just three years ago he was battling colon cancer. The cancer is now in remission, but it did not go quietly.
“Since then I have had some kidney problems which resulted in me being on dialysis. The only way to get out of dialysis right now is to have a kidney transplant, if not I would have to do this for the rest of my life.
“Obviously it has its restrictions because I am active, I’m a musician, I travel the world and that sort of stuff and it is a lot of hassle and a lot of preparation and very time-consuming because the process in itself is very lengthy. The way to overcome that is to get a kidney transplant.”
It was about 17 years ago when a routine physical examination turned out to be life-altering for George. With a family of chronic hypertensives, George’s doctor told him it was amazing he was still standing and not flat on his back, hooked up to machines. He too was then diagnosed with chronic hypertension, which because it was undiagnosed and therefore unchecked for so long had already started impacting his kidneys.
So he made the changes to his lifestyle and diet, but then came his cancer diagnosis. So more treatment and more medications in addition to the blood pressure meds he would have been on previously for his hypertension, further stressed his kidneys, however indirectly.
“I can’t really say that it has changed me apart from the physical and time-consuming challenges; but in terms of my spirit and my demeanor and my whole outlook and everything, I still hold joy. I still enjoy my life, I’m still positive and I deal with challenges that confront me.
“What has changed significantly is the diet. There are a lot of things that out of bounds, because my kidneys cannot filter certain things and the dialysis process [is] only about 60 per cent of the normal kidney function. So it is not a 100 per cent replacement of your natural kidneys.”
All the precautions he takes with his foods, his activities, while still functioning as an entertainer, he said he believes have left him at the “top of the game” for someone who is on dialysis, with no major complications so far.
“So it is basically against this background that this event was conceptualised and it came out of an informal discussion with Red Plastic Bag and John Roett and Gabby. I live in the Caymans now and they were all here last year for our carnival and I was just highlighting the challenges and stuff that I am having dealing with this and it is a very costly procedure as well.
“So Red Plastic Bag said he would coordinate the guys and he [thought] it was a good idea to do something for Labour Day when everybody is in New York and it is right after Crop-Over and he would coordinate the artists, which he did and that was the genesis of the whole programme.”
The quotation he has been given is US$300,000, which covers everything from the cost of travel to the surgery and incidentals for both himself and his donor.
“I also have to look after the expenses of the donor, whoever that will be and that involves everything. The procedure will be done somewhere in the US and I am in the process right now of being listed … and once they call you, you have to be ready to roll, so that involves airfare, accommodation, transportation, everything that comes with it and the operation itself.”
Donations can be made as well at both FirstCaribbean International Bank, account number 1001119462, or Republic Bank, to account number 142852091001.