BARDSTOWN -- Anyone driving down Bardstown's Templin Avenue may have noticed a bright yellow banner hanging from a wooden fence -- a color designed to catch the eye; a blood type, an email address and one simple plea: "Gladys needs a kidney."
Signs such as this have become more common as victims of organ failure take it upon themselves to find the match they need.
Gladys Boone is among those still searching.
It has been a year since Boone's name was added to the transplant waiting list and about seven months since she started dialysis, a treatment to clean her blood because her kidneys are no longer able to.
Boone, 57, is originally from New Haven, but she and her husband, Al, have lived in Bardstown for about 35 years. They were living here when she found out she had polycystic kidney disease, a disorder in which cysts develop in the kidneys and interfere with their ability to filter waste from the blood. The diagnosis came as a surprise and was discovered after a tragedy.
The couple's first son was born with the disorder -- severe at infancy -- and died shortly after birth. Both parents were tested, and Gladys' test results came back as positive. She was a carrier for the inherited disease, but there were no warning signs in her family history.
"Nobody we can find in the family has had polycystic kidney disease," Boone said, adding that she is one of five siblings. If anyone did have it, they never presented with symptoms.
Because Gladys has the disease, however, the couple was told that if they tried to conceive again, there would be a 50 percent chance the gene would be passed on to another child, and they didn't want to take that risk. Instead, the Boones opted for adoption, and now have two sons, ages 20 and 23, whom they adopted from Guatemala.
A decline into dialysis
After diagnosis, Boone visited the doctor for annual check-ups and adjusted to a kidney-friendly diet. For more than 20 years, she lived with the disease without any serious complications. About two years ago, however, the disease became aggressive and her kidney function began to decline significantly. A few days before the New Year, Gladys began dialysis and now does the treatment three days a week for about three hours and 45 minutes. Dialysis is often required when about 85 to 90 percent of kidney function is lost. Currently, Boone's kidneys only function at 3 percent.
For Boone, one of the most frustrating consequences of having to go on dialysis is that she has had to stop working.
"It's hard not being able to work," she said, adding that she was an IT project manager with a Louisville-based company. "You work 30-something years and all the sudden you're not," so it is a big adjustment.
When she first started treatment, Boone tried staying employed but found it difficult to facilitate meetings and get work done between treatments.
"It got to a point where I felt there was more stress, and I knew stress was not good," she said.
Now, limited by the time her dialysis takes out of the week, Boone keeps herself busy making homemade greeting cards, something she enjoys and can share with family and friends.
While she receives dialysis at a local clinic, Boone plans to visit a surgeon this month to inquire about doing peritoneal dialysis, which is an alternative treatment that can be done at home.
As with most who have gone into renal failure, Boone will have to remain on dialysis until she can get a kidney. The only alternative, she said, is dying.
A kidney can be hard to come by
Boone's doctors began discussing her need for a kidney transplant a few months before she went on dialysis, and she was placed on the waiting list last August, but a kidney can be hard to come by. Kidneys are the most needed and most transplanted organs, with more than 21,000 transplants in the United States last year. Currently, in Kentucky, 735 people are waiting for a kidney, and of those, 100 are blood type B like Boone.
Instead of waiting around for the hope a match would pop up somewhere, the Boones went with a more direct route to find a donor, adding the banner in front of their home and large yellow signs to either side of Gladys' car. They have received some response through those efforts, as well as campaigns on social media and word of mouth.
In the last year, about two dozen or more people have shown interest in donating, many of them friends in the community, but most have been ineligible for various medical reasons.
"You almost have to be in perfect health to donate," Boone said, adding that medical history, age, genetic conditions and other issues can factor into eligibility.
Boone did find two donors who were eligible to pursue transplant, but neither turned out to be a match for a successful donation.
"I think they were as disappointed as I was," she said, adding the number of people who have reached out to help has meant a lot.
"We've been very blessed with the number of people who have been trying" and showing support, she said.
In her own struggle to find a match, Boone has become better aware of just how serious the need for organ donors -- especially living donors -- has become.
"People, they want to donate after they die, but what a nice reward to donate while you are living," she said.
Boone believes if more people understood what went into living donation and how the process worked, they might be more open to the idea. Growing the number of donors both registered and living is crucial to helping the thousands of people waiting for a kidney and other organs.
As for Boone, she isn't giving up hope, and maybe someone who sees her signs or hears her story will be the match she is waiting for.
"I know somebody is out there," she said. "It's just a matter of finding them."