The 10-cent deposit for an empty beer or soda bottle might seem like an insignificant amount of money to most people, but it could add up to the difference between life and death for one Medford family.
One by one by one, Medford resident David Mayer feeds bottles and cans into the machines at the bottle return facility on Stowe Avenue, and he views every container he drops inside as another 10 cents closer to the kidney transplant that could save his daughter Ashley’s life.
Ashley, 24, has been in kidney failure since the age of 12. So far, she and her father have raised just over $7,260, which translates into more than 72,600 sticky metal and glass containers, inserted one by one into the slow machines. A third of the time, the machine beeps with an error message and kicks the bottle or can back out — try again. And try again they do.
All told, they need at least $10,000, or 100,000 bottles, to meet a fundraising goal set by transplant officials who require patients to prove they can cover transplant-related costs such as expensive anti-rejection medication.
To that end, the father-daughter duo spend their days out collecting cans and bottles from around the Rogue Valley, off the sides of roadways and overflowing trash cans, via David’s Volkswagen Jetta.
Both father and daughter work full time — he’s a lot attendant for Lithia Volkswagen, and she works at Del Taco. Ashley spends her “free time” from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday on dialysis.
“She works full time and goes to dialysis. That’s her whole life right now,” said David Mayer.
Ashley was 12 when she was rushed to the hospital one day from her classroom at Jackson Elementary.
“It was back when they had Jackson Health Connect at the school. I was working at Wendy’s, and the school called me and said, ‘We’re rushing your daughter to the hospital.’ We found out she had chronic kidney renal insufficiency and she had to be med-evaced to OHSU,” said David Mayer.
Ashley’s right kidney was determined to be nonfunctioning, while her left has dwindled from 73 to 15 percent function since that day.
“You can live on one kidney if it’s at 60 percent,” David points out. “She’s running low on time.”
On and off transplant lists and being moved between transplant agencies, Ashley’s current reality is that her case is “critical,” but she's off the transplant list until she raises enough money.
“My daughter's group of 40 people that are waiting for transplants, basically, they were taken off the list until they have the money. Some are in wheelchairs, some are elderly. It is really, really sad,” said the father.
“In September of last year, we tried to do a car wash. That didn’t go well at all. So, in October, my daughter and I and her boyfriend, Chris, decided we would start collecting bottles and cans. I didn’t know how to fundraise, so this was something we felt like we could do.”
Having only known a life of being careful with her body and dealing with chronic exhaustion and health complications, Ashley said she tries to focus on finally getting a chance for a transplant.
She’s encouraged by her father’s dedication despite hardships, including the loss of her mother a year and a half ago. Following her father’s lead, Ashley said she only knows to “just keep trying.”
“It’s really hard sometimes. We have $7,200, but we’ve still got to get more. You have people who will say to come pick up cans, and then they don’t answer the phone when you drive there. We spend most of our time driving around to get cans, and then I work all the time and go straight from work to dialysis three days a week, and straight from dialysis to bed,” Ashley said.
“A lot of people talk about getting to travel and go do stuff. I can’t go anywhere. I have to stay close for dialysis, so it puts your life on hold. The hardest part is probably having to see my dad so worried.”
Kristin Ball, fundraising consultant for the National Foundation for Transplants, a Tennessee-based organization that helps transplant patients with fundraising, said it was heartwarming to see the father and daughter working together.
“I think they’re a really incredible family, and I’m excited to see that people are so interested in Ashley. They’ve been through a lot, so it’s really nice to see people come together for them,” said Ball.
One bright spot in her struggle came when Ashley was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a teen. She asked to meet Carrie Underwood and was flown to California, where the singer performed and dedicated the song “Jesus Take The Wheel” to Ashley.
“Since then, every time we hear that song it brings back tears, but it also brings back hope,” said David.
“I know that I have to face the fact that if I can’t make this happen that she could eventually die. I go to bed every night and wonder, 'Did I do enough? Did I do the best I could?' The only thing I can do is to collect bottles and cans and keep turning them in one at a time. All of us can only do the best we can do and have faith it will all turn out.”
For more information about Ashley, see the National Foundation for Transplants website at http://give.transplants.org/site/TR/NFTPatientsandLivingDonor/General?px=1011527&pg=personal&fr_id=1040 or www.facebook.com/Find-a-Kidney-for-Ashley-Mayer-368043536630612/
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.