Retired firefighter searches for kidney match via donated billboard ad

Updated: Nov. 7, 2019 at 7:56 PM EST
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SANDSTON, Va. (WWBT) - A Henrico firefighter who spent years saving lives now needs your help, to save his.

Retired Lieutenant Grover Barnett is in need of a kidney after he was placed on the transplant list in September by Henrico Doctors.

“You still start out with 100,000 people in front of you,” Barnett said. “The quickest way to get one is what they call living donors and that’s where a living person will donate one of theirs to you.”

Barnett is looking for that one person who could match with him in order to give him a new left kidney. Barnett’s was removed in 2017.

“I was sitting here right in this chair, Friday the 13th of all days," he said. “I got a little pain in my left side. I couldn’t stand up… I went in and found out that kidney had spontaneously started to bleed.”

Doctors removed the kidney due to cancer. Ever since then he’s been getting dialysis.

"You lose control of your life,” Barnett said.

Control and order is something Barnett has always had, especially when out on scene with the Henrico County Fire Division.

"I've been just about everywhere in the County,” he said.

The former Lieutenant has the helmets and memorabilia to prove it.

"It was the best job I ever had,” Barnett said. “I had the guys on my shift who were the ‘wild bunch’ as some people called them, but I loved them all because when it came down to them doing their job, they were 150%.”

Barnett started out as a volunteer in 1973. He didn’t think he’d stay in as long as he did.

“35 years and one day,” he said.

After retiring in 2008 due to some heart issues, Barnett faced even more health obstacles with his kidneys, starting with his right one in 2011.

“In 2013 they went in and removed those spots, one of them was cancerous, two of them were benign,” he said.

As a result, Barnett’s right kidney is only functioning at 40%. His left one was removed four years later putting him on dialysis treatment several days a week.

“You can’t plan anything,” Barnett said. “You can’t go and see the grandkids because, well, you’ve got a dialysis treatment.”

But his family and specifically his older sister have been planning.

"She called the people with Lamar Advertising, who have been terrific, and asked them what it would cost to have one of those billboards," Barnett said.

Depending on which billboards you choose it can range about $5,000 a month, something Barnett didn’t feel comfortable with.

"They called my sister back in about 10 minutes and said I'll tell you what we're going to do, we're going to give you two billboards a week for 12 weeks at no charge," Barnett said.

“Over the course of the next three months, we are utilizing digital billboards in the Richmond area and in Henrico County, where this local hero served as a firefighter and EMT for his entire career,” said Lamar Advertising spokeswoman Allie McAlpin. “Lamar has a long history of allocating available billboard space and using the power of billboard advertising to promote good causes and raise awareness of community members in need.”

Barnett's plea for help is now digitized across Henrico, currently on billboards along I-195 and Route 1.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Barnett said.

However, the community support hasn’t stopped there. Banner Express found out about Barnett and donated 300 bumper stickers with the same billboard design.

"We gotta hope there's a chance," Barnett said.

While Barnett is remaining optimistic these stickers and billboards will find a match, he’s also humbly prepared if it doesn’t.

“If I don’t get anything out of it, if they can’t find a match for me, maybe they’ll find a match for somebody else,” he said. “There’s a lot of people waiting for kidney transplants.”

On Thursday Barnett added he received a call about a woman who had seen the advertisement and went to find out if she was a match, unfortunately she was not.

However, anyone who would like to help Barnett can call the Living Donor Hotline at Henrico Doctors at (804) 289-4941 to get tested.

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