Advertising for a hero: Johnson County billboard seeks kidney donor for grandmother of 15

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Norma Watson feels like she only lives every other day.

Three times a week, since October, the Nineveh mother of six and grandmother of 15 hooks up to a dialysis machine and is drained both mentally and physically in an ongoing battle to not succumb to Alport syndrome.

“When you come home you have to lay down you’re so drained. It takes everything out of you,” Norma said.

Five years ago, Norma was diagnosed with the genetic disease which has caused her kidneys to fail, making her dependent on the brutal machine that gives life as well as takes from those who depend on it.

Norma’s only chance to escape the machine and live free of dialysis is a kidney transplant.

But there is one big problem, despite being surrounded by a large, loving family – they can do nothing to help. Alport is a genetic disease, meaning a family member’s kidney can’t be used as a transplant for Norma, no matter how many may wish to give theirs to their ailing mother or grandmother.

But Norma’s family refused to just stand by. If they couldn’t be the donor Norma needs, then they’d find the donor.

Sitting at the intersection of US 31 and State Road 252 near Edinburgh, a billboard bearing Norma’s face reads “You have two, I only need one.”

The billboard has sat along the Johnson County intersection for nearly six months trying to spread word of Norma’s search for life free of the taxing dialysis machine. Several have come forward offering their kidneys, but so far none have been a match.

“It’d be easy to give up,” Norma said, not just of her struggle to find a donor but of living to see the next sunrise, the next season, the next grandchild’s birthday. “Two weeks off dialysis is all it takes.”

The idea of using a billboard to search for a donor came from Norma’s doctor, but what made it possible was the hard work and constant fundraising from her family, friends, and her church community. Fundraising, which even included her 19-year-old granddaughter holding a softball tournament in the middle of snowy February, a move that tugged at Norma’s heart.

“They keep me going. Keep me fighting,” Norma said, humbled by the amount of effort she’s received.

“You’ve got to have support behind you or you will give up,” she added.

Despite the billboard coming down Wednesday, Norma and her family haven’t given up that someone will hear of her fight and come forward willing to part with a single kidney in order to help a beloved mother and grandmother.

Norma said anyone of any blood type can be a potential donor, according to her Indiana University transplant coordinator. Potential donors can simply call or email Norma at 317-933-3101 or normawatson112@yahoo.com and she will put them in contact with her coordinator who will determine if they’re a possible donor.

“You just keep going, and going and going,” Norma said, pushed by her family, pushed by her friends, pushed by her community.

Whether they’re driving down a highway, scrolling through social media, watching the evening news, Norma’s hero may not even yet know someone is waiting on them to step up and be the savior her family prays is out there. Word only needs to reach them.

And if not,

“At least I’m going down swinging,” Norma said.

Click here to learn more about donating a kidney.

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