James King and his liver transplant

James KingFans and followers of James King know that it’s been hard times up and down the road of late for the bluegrass balladeer. The past year has found him in and out of hospitals since being admitted while on the road in May 2014 for what was initially suspected to be kidney stones.

After a lengthy stay in the hospital in both Missouri and Virginia, it was determined that James was experiencing liver problems. Attempts to remedy the problems with both medications and diet were helpful but not sufficient, and in November he was told that a liver transplant was ultimately his only option.

But somehow in the midst of many tests, and multiple medical appointments both near his home in Roanoke, VA and at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville, he was never officially considered to be placed on a transplant list. King had assumed that this meant that he was ineligible, which was an understandably crushing blow to come while fighting such a serious illness.

During another brief hospitalization this past March to adjust medications for his low kidney function, it was discovered that he had never been considered by the transplant team, and so had not been determined as ineligible.

So James has now begun this process of evaluation, starting about two weeks ago. It can be a lengthy routine to determine if you are healthy enough to receive a liver, including a psychological examination. He will meet with, and be evaluated by every member of the transplant team, all of whom must approve each potential candidate.

Fortunately, his kidney function is better now than at any time since that first hospitalization last year. He was readmitted last week to UVA for low function due to de-hydration, but is doing far better now.

Long time James King fans know that he has lived a hard life, and made some destructive choices along the way. But both he and his caretaker want everyone to understand that he is 100% clean, and hasn’t had a drink in many years. His blood is tested twice weekly, and any alcohol or drug abuse would raise an immediate red flag.

James has heard rumors suggesting that he is still drinking, but insisted that they are coming from people who might see him at a show and mistake the confusion that can be caused by high ammonia levels for intoxication. It is a symptom of the cirrhosis of the liver he is suffering, and can also lead to sleepiness and exhaustion.

Knowing the good hearts that bluegrass people possess, it’s certain that about now folks are thinking, “What can I do to help?”

In fact, there are two things. Fist of all, if you are healthy and have either A or O blood type (+ or – doesn’t matter), you can be considered as a living liver donor. The transplant surgery removes a segment of a donor’s healthy liver, and implants it into the patient. In a successful transplant, the donor tissue will grow to a normal size, with normal function, in a matter of weeks.

To be considered as a donor, you must be between ages 18-60, and have a Body Mass Index of 30 or lower. Overweight donors can not be considered. More details can be found online.

Pre-screening is being offered now, and more detailed testing of potential donors will begin if James is approved for a transplant. His insurance will cover 100% of a donor’s medical fees for screening and surgery if they are selected, though a donor will have to cover their own transportation costs to Charlottesville.

To be considered as a living donor, please contact Melissa Donovan, the UVA Living Liver Donor Coordinator at 800-543-8814 for more information. Prior to being placed on the transplant list, potential donors can contact their primary physicians to check blood type and BMI.

Secondly, James remains in a cash crunch from the combination of missed shows during his hospitalizations, and medical costs not covered by insurance. There are two medical funds set up for his benefit, and he could really use the help right now.

One is a GoFundMe account set up by his friend Chip Covington. All monies donated here are deposited in an account which James can access. The other is the James King Medical Fund established at Wells Fargo Bank. Anyone can visit a Wells Fargo Branch and make a direct donation to this account, or they can be mailed to:

James King Medical Fund
c/o Deonia Jones,
Wells Fargo Bank
201 S. Jefferson St.
Roanoke VA 24011

Purchases of his CDs are also a fine way to offer some financial support.

If you would like to drop him a line directly, the address is:

PO Box 2615
Salem, 24153

In the wider picture, James is doing much better than he had been earlier this year. He is able to walk under his own power, and is living with a loving family that is dedicated to his care and well being. All he needs now is to be approved for the transplant, and find a suitable donor.

He is still performing, so if you catch one of his shows, be sure to share an encouraging word. And if you can make a donation, even a small one, be sure that it will be deeply appreciated.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.