This article is the first in a series that showcases how these icons have courageously faced the challenges of kidney disease while pursuing their passions. Their jour...
Jamal Shuriah always knew he wanted to be a performer. He started playing minor roles at local community theaters at seven and continued throughout high school. After graduating, Jamal earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and began his professional career. He quickly landed several notable contracts, including "Monty" in Saturday Night Fever and "Simba" in the Disney cruise line's version of The Lion King. Afterward, Jamal toured with Green Day's hit musical, American Idiot.
Jamal was on track for fame until his health suddenly took a turn for the worse.
Getting diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS)
In 2017, Jamal booked a pre-broadway show and started rehearsals. That's when he noticed his energy was off and his body was changing. Once-easy routines that he'd practiced hundreds of times were becoming difficult.
"Two weeks before we closed the show, I noticed my body wasn't as toned as usual. I'm very fit and athletic but I was gaining weight in my abdomen even though I hadn't changed my lifestyle," Jamal said. "On the day we closed, I started putting on even more water retention, also known as edema."
Jamal didn't have time to think about his symptoms, though. Immediately after the show run ended, he was off to spend two weeks at Coachella.
"I stayed with one of my best friends, who was dating a medical student. That student is the one who told me that my symptoms aligned with kidney disease," said Jamal. "Shortly after getting back home, I was diagnosed with FSGS, meaning I had scarring on my glomeruli which filter the blood. It was clear my kidneys would eventually fail."
Jamal lost sixty pounds over the following two years, and his body began shutting down. In 2019, Jamal had to start peritoneal dialysis (PD), but he wasn't ready to give up on performing yet.
"I woke up early and did peritoneal dialysis before rushing off to rehearsal or performances. My catheter was on my right abdomen. I'd wear high-waisted belts to hide it," Jamal said. "In 2020, I was supposed to perform at two shows but my energy was so low that I had to fight to get through each rehearsal and performance. After the last performance, I went to a back room and had to immediately lay down. I checked myself into the hospital soon after."
Jamal learned that his PD line had failed. He began hemodialysis but had to put a pause on his dance and performing career.
Losing his first transplant
In 2020, Kim Constantinesco wanted to do something good to help counter the pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She decided that becoming an altruistic living kidney donor was the best way to do so. Kim signed up to be a donor, passed the living donor evaluation, and was anonymously paired with Jamal.
"I got my transplant on December 18th, 2020. For a few days, I felt great! The night before I was supposed to leave the hospital, my stomach seized up and hardened. I couldn't stop using the bathroom and felt pain like never before," Jamal said." Four days after the surgery, my transplant failed because I caught C. diff, a type of infection that spreads through fecal matter. It was likely on one of the instruments used during surgery."
The last thing Jamal remembers from that day is calling for a nurse.
"I woke up a few days later without the kidney. I had edema and couldn't walk. After spending a few more days in the hospital, I went back home," said Jamal. "I was on so many medications that I felt like a zombie. I even hallucinated. My cousin noticed I wasn't myself and took me to the emergency room. After that, I weaned off the medication and began rehabilitation. I was determined to dance again. By May 2021, I was walking more and by August I was taking dancing classes."
Jamal hadn't known Kim overheard his name during surgery pre-op and looked him up to see if the kidney worked. She learned his transplant failed through Jamal’s personal website, where he posts updates about his journey. While someone else may have been disappointed and moved on, Kim was determined to help.
Kim connected with Jamal's friend, Rebecca, who was spreading the word that Jamal needed another kidney. The two women joined forces and shared Jamal’s story on social media and through local news outlets. As a result of their tireless work, they eventually received a message from Laura Lawrence, another altruistic donor, who felt connected to Jamal's story. She was a perfect match for him.
"I received my next transplant on September 30th, 2021. I was in the hospital for two weeks while the kidney settled in. When I got home, I was feeling good. I received my anti-rejection medicine through infusions and started getting back in shape," said Jamal. "I was dancing professionally by January 2022 and booked a show in February. I had shows lined up all summer. I felt so fortunate that my career was back on track."
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Losing his second transplant
In January 2023, Jamal was playing several characters for a new show. Everything was going well until the last three weeks of the performance.
"I was feeling a new discomfort but pushed through the last performances. I had missed a few infusions because they didn't fit into my schedule and I was growing more tired as time passed," Jamal said. "Once the show run ended, I went to the hospital. I was rejecting the kidney but, with some new medications, I started to feel better and was discharged four days later."
The next day, Jamal started his new assistant choreographer job.
"While I felt better, I was not in perfect health. I decided to push through the pain because I wanted to do well in this new job. But I succumbed to kidney failure soon after," said Jamal. "A biopsy confirmed I'd need a third kidney. Now I'm on dialysis Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It's surreal to have to monitor my body again but I'm remaining positive."
Jamal has taken another pause from performing while working to find another kidney, but he is hopeful and determined.
"My friends and family are very supportive but it's difficult. I've learned how much I love to perform and dance," Jamal said. "I'm working on my health and following all my doctor's instructions. I have to prove to everyone that I'll be strong enough to dance again."
Living with dialysis and kidney failure can be extremely difficult, but help is available. NKF Peers connects people with kidney disease with trained mentors who have been there themselves. You can hear someone's story and perspective to aid you in adjusting to what you're going through and learn about resources that could help your journey.
*Photo Credits: findjamalakidney.com
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