It was about a week after Cameron Wardlaw had gone to urgent care that he got the phone call. He was at home, drinking plenty of water as the doctors had advised. The heart palpitations and panic attacks he was having were due to pneumonia, they had told the 49-year Burbank resident, and he needed to keep hydrated.
But when he picked up the phone on that day in November, they had different news. You need to go to the emergency room as soon as possible, they said.
Not knowing what the new diagnosis would be, Wardlaw took an Uber to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center. He recalled in an interview that he was so sick that the hospital staff placed him in a wheelchair to make sure he wouldn’t fall over.
Soon, Wardlaw was diagnosed with Stage 5 chronic kidney disease, specifically urosepsis. He’s now looking for a kidney donor to avoid having to undergo dialysis, which could give him a comparatively shorter lifespan. He’s also raising money to pay living expenses for both himself and — hopefully — a donor after surgery.
Wardlaw, a marriage and family therapist who is often asked to offer crisis counseling after national tragedies, won’t be able to work for three months after he has his surgery. At 6 feet 9 inches tall, he likes to call himself “the tallest therapist on short notice.”
“I’m not one to ask for help,” he added. “I’m one to provide help. … I talked to my transplant coordinator, and they said, ‘With all of this coming up soon, you’re going to want to start a fundraiser, and I’m like, ‘Oh, boy, I’m usually not the one to do this.’
“And they said, ‘Well, you really need to, because you’re going to have these bills that are coming up.’”
Wardlaw has some donors who are being considered by his treatment team, but he asks any healthy person with blood type A or O to take a questionnaire from UCLA Health at uclakidneydonor.org if they’re interested in potentially donating a kidney.
He also set up a fundraiser at gofundme.com/f/cams-financial-assistance-following-surgery, where he raised $3,231 as of Thursday, January 28.
Wardlaw explained that he could have surgery in six to eight months if he finds a donor soon — and a minimum of six to eight years to receive a kidney donation from the transplant list if a compatible person doesn’t volunteer.
“If I have the transplant, I have a better chance of a longer, healthier life, is what I’m being told,” he said.
Wardlaw is still working, providing remote counseling sessions from home, but he said that he doesn’t have much energy on some days. He sometimes feels waves of fatigue and headaches, and occasionally struggles to remember details.
“The challenging part of the day-to-day [is] not knowing how you’re going to feel the next day and how it … ebbs and flows,” he said. “I don’t really remember what it felt like to feel normal — this is kind of like the new normal for me, in other words.”
Then, after a long pause, Wardlaw added, “For now. And I know that will change.”