Chicago teacher, laid off, faces kidney challenge too

Two failed kidneys and the ever-present threat of death have created a host of demands on Oak Park resident John Evans. But he isn’t complaining.

Complaining, Evans believes, is a waste of time and energy: time and energy best spent on a host of other pursuits. And Evans, a special education teacher, author, poet and doctoral candidate, probably makes as many demands on himself.

In 2005, the year his mother passed away, Evans, now 39, developed a serious kidney infection. The infection abated, but soon returned with a vengeance, growing progressively worse.

His condition became undeniable when, besides fatigue, he became so toxic his face broke out and his breath became fetid.

Evans said he also had hypertension, a main cause of renal failure, along with diabetes. Indeed, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure- renal failure- that requires him to spend nearly fours hours on a dialysis machine, three times a week.

It will not get better, so his future holds regular dialysis and, hopefully, a kidney transplant.

“When kidneys no longer function, toxins accumulate,” said Evan’s nurse, Daffney Hughes, whom he calls simply “Nurse Daffney.” “It’s called uremia, a build up of toxins.”

Besides his dialysis regimen and medications, Evans has to watch what he eats, and can drink only 32 ounces of fluids a day.

“Everything in moderation is one of the golden rules,” he said.

To facilitate the thrice-weekly blood cleansing, the artery and vein in Evan’s left forearm were surgically connected, allowing a double set of tubing to take his blood out and run it through the dialysis machine. The device not only clears out a nasty array of toxins, but also removes excess fluids from Evan’s system.

As Evans sat undergoing dialysis on a recent afternoon at Fresenius Medical Care in River Forest, he looked over an array of papers in his lap and on a side table.

He has written eight books of poetry, and in 2010 released a CD of spoken word poetry, titled “Washin’ My Hands.”

Evans said he’s working on a doctorate in educational leadership. His thesis is on the impact of inspiration on academic performance.”

It involves, he said with a hearty laugh, “The adventures of Snout, the brown snout pig,” without elaborating.

He said he wants to be “the world’s first inspiration specialist.”

Meanwhile, in 2011 he became an ordained minister. “It’s one of the things that keeps me whole,” he said. “I wake up every day with a goal, a mission for myself, something I need to accomplish that day.

Evans admits to not always being quite as positive as he’d like. Early on, he decided he knew better than his doctors, and didn’t adhere to his medical regimen.

“I thought I’d be OK not following instructions,” he said. “That’s a no-no. My health got worse.”

Evans said his kidney disease is “not a death sentence, it’s a life sentence.”

In the face of all his challenges, Evans said, being positive is essential, despite having so many reasons to be negative.

As in June, when the west side school where he worked, Parkman Elementary, was one of dozens closed by Chicago Public Schools.

“My summer assignment is to find a new school,” he said.

“I believe there are things all patients must do to be restored in life,” he said. “Physical, mental and spiritual.”

Key among them, he said, is to “not feel sorry for myself. To not feel defeated, To keep the faith.”

“We’re more than a conquerer of our illness,” he said. “We can do anything we put our mind to.”

Hughes said Evans needs such a positive attitude in the face his daunting medical condition. Since his diagnosis, he has been on the University of Chicago Hospital’s kidney transplant list.

He has already shown he’s strong enough and positive enough. Now he just needs to be patient enough. And a bit lucky. He needs a willing donor who also matches his blood type and a number of other factors.

“We tell patients that their overall health determines how (they) rise on the transplant list,” said. “There are a lot of meds involved after a transplant.”

Hughes said that all humans have two kidneys, and can live with just one. Those willing to be considered as donors can contact the The University of Chicago Hospital’s Kidney Transplant program.

Do it online at or call (773) 702-1000, and ask for the kidney transplant program.

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