Woman seeks kidney using hand-painted billboard

The large, hand-painted billboard is a jolt to motorists driving east toward Salina on Interstate Highway 70.

“I NEED A KIDNEY 785-428-3390” it reads, in large, black letters.

No name, photo or commercial logo accompanies the plea.

The stark message was painted by Jim Nelson, whose wife, Sharon, 73, has suffered from kidney failure since 2009.

Sharon Nelson had a form of bone marrow cancer that eventually led to kidney failure.

“I have been on dialysis since April 2009 and have been actively searching for a kidney since 2011,” Nelson said.

She travels to Concordia three times a week for dialysis.

First, friends of her husband, including three Vietnam War buddies, offered up a kidney to Nelson, but each was turned down because of previous medical problems. Her nephew offered, but he had a heart problem.

“I called a nurse at the Mayo Clinic, where I had been approved for a kidney transplant, and she said a guy in Milwaukee got a kidney by putting up a billboard,” Nelson said. “My husband knew someone who had a family member who had a billboard. Sure enough, one was available.”

Nelson said her husband sketched out the message before climbing a 12-foot ladder with black paint to paint the message on the billboard, which is located about 10 miles west of Salina.

“We decided it was worth a try,” she said. “It was so cold when he was on the ladder. The ladder was unstable because the ground was uneven. I was in the pickup, ready to call 911 if he fell off.”

Billboard gets responses

Nelson said a few people called after seeing the sign, including one person who was heartbroken that she had the wrong blood type.

Donors must have the same blood type, in this case type O. Heart problems, obesity, diabetes and a history of cancer also are disqualifiers.

Nelson said more people started calling after KWCH TV, the Journal’s news partner, aired Nelson’s story Thursday evening.

“We have had a great number of phone calls,” Nelson said. “People have to follow up with my donor coordinator at the Mayo Clinic. I don’t know how many will, though. It is an impulsive thing, offering to give your kidney.”

Nelson said she was surprised by the response.

“We have been very grateful,” she said. “It was a wonderful response and our community (near Jewell) has been very supportive. One of the ladies gave me a prayer quilt. After we put it up, we started seeing responses to the sign.”