According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 million American adults have Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Area musician James Michael McLester was part of that statistic until his kidney transplant in December.
McLester was not always sick. He was an athlete, had good grades and never acted up; it was a normal childhood, that is, up until he was 11 years old and developed dental cavities “because of too much Kool-Aid.”
Dental amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, were placed in McLester’s teeth and everything seemed fine. Not long after, his hands and body crippled and his knees filled with fluid. McLester said doctors had no idea what was wrong with him, and he was heartbroken because he could no longer play sports.
It was then that McLester became involved in band. He competed in the school band and took private drum lessons for the next couple of years until he decided to run away from home to pursue a music career. From ages 15-23 McLester played at nightclubs and lived the life of a young rock star.
In 1991, his father died. McLester, then 23, said music was his only escape from the grief of losing his father. His crippled body became normal again, but he said his trust in God crumbled.
“God had healed me in remission,” McLester said. “But I began to mistrust God and my family for allowing my dad to die. So, I let my band become my family.”
By 32, McLester was an experienced rock star. Drugs, alcohol and money were a part of his daily life, and he was content with that.
That perception dramatically shifted in 2000 when he completely lost his vision and entered a mild stage of kidney failure. Doctors did not find the cause for his illness until several years later when a heart specialist credited the mercury from his silver fillings for his health problems. Silver fillings do not cause extensive health problems for everyone, but McLester was an exception.
For three years, McLester suffered. He refused dialysis for fear of “death or something else” until he came face-to-face with death and had to have emergency dialysis.
“I was full of fear and terror,” McLester said. “I had to stop everything cold turkey. No more drugs or alcohol. I was in a cold basement for eight days, and on the seventh day I heard God speak to me in an audible voice. That verse was Psalms 118:17 (I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord).”
It was on that day that McLester rekindled his relationship with God. With a newly found focus on his health, he was placed on a transplant list in 2007.
From 2007-14, every outlet for a new kidney fell through. But one day Laura Suarez, an old friend, reached out to McLester and his luck changed.
Suarez and McLester caught up over dinner and from there, Suarez said she never looked back.
“I knew he was sick,” Suarez said. “So, I said, ‘Well, I have an extra kidney, do you want it?’ He had a lot of apprehension, but through joint prayer everything worked out. We both laugh at why God brought us back together.”
On Dec. 9, McLester successfully received Suarez’s kidney.
Since the transplant, McLester has been able to live a normal life. He still sees God as his ultimate savior, which is well documented in his book “Wannabee Rock Star who finally found the Rock.” He also continues to play shows for various bands to raise awareness for kidney and other organ diseases.
McLester will be playing drums in the Whitesnake tribute band Saints and Sinners from 9 p.m. to midnight Friday at Rock 101 Grill in Little Elm. There will be a $5 cover for the show.
To help McLester with his transplant-related expenses, visit helphopelive.org/campaign/4543.
To sign up to be an organ donor, go to organdonor.gov.