Phil Ross and wife Debbi with one of their two grandchildren
Phil Ross and wife Debbi with one of their two grandchildren. (Photo courtesy of Phil Ross)

Phil Ross’s family members helped launch a social media campaign called “Papa Phil Can, His Kidneys Can’t,” where people can sign up to get tested to see if they’re a match.

The stunning views from the national parks in Utah weren’t all that took Phil Ross’s breath away. During a family trip earlier this year, the 67-year-old husband, father and grandfather from Sylvan Lake found himself having trouble breathing while on sightseeing walks at higher elevations.

“I couldn’t go on hikes. I couldn’t go to the high altitudes without feeling it,” he recalled.

Upon returning home in February, Ross went to see his doctor. A series of tests revealed some devastating news — his kidneys are failing. Ross, who has had chronic kidney problems likely due to an infection as a child, was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. Doctors say he needs a kidney transplant within months, or he will have to begin dialysis, a process where he’s routinely hooked up to machines to filter and purify his blood. COVID-19 has complicated his search for a donor.

“The pandemic delayed my ability to get on the transplant list because the clinics were temporarily closed. I could not get in for testing,” Ross said. “I was just recently able to make an appointment and I did get added to the list, but the wait to find a donor could take five to 10 years.”

Ross, a member of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, does not have that kind of time. He recently retired after running a family-owned electrical supply company for most of his career and planned to travel and spend more time with his adult children and two young grandchildren. Now, finding a kidney donor is his full-time job. His best chance for a transplant would be to find a living donor. With that in mind, family members helped launch a social media campaign called “Papa Phil Can, His Kidneys Can’t,” where people can sign up to get tested to see if they’re a match.

Phil Ross and his wife, Debbi
Phil Ross and his wife, Debbi. Photo courtesy of Phil Ross

“We’re getting an outpouring of love from all of our friends and family. There’s a lot of concern,” said Debbi Ross, Phil’s wife of 40 years. “My hope is that we get in really quickly and get it done because I know COVID-19 is only going to get worse and they could close the clinic again like they did before.”

Between the online campaign, emails to friends, family members and supporters, and a few local TV appearances, about 130 people are now signed up to get tested. Phil and his family say they’re overwhelmed and hopeful they’ll find a match soon.

“I’m blown away — I can’t believe there are that many people out there who are willing to help a total stranger. It renews my faith in humanity,” he said, fighting back tears. “I am really feeling positive we will find a match. I’m much more optimistic now.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 100,000 people nationwide are currently waiting for a kidney transplant. To donate a kidney, you should be 18 years or older and in good physical and mental health.

“People with kidney disease and transplant recipients are at higher risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19,” reads the National Kidney Foundation’s website.

That’s another concern. Phil and his family are taking extra precautions because getting sick now could cause a major setback.

“He’s very kind, good-natured; he’s very honest in all his dealings — and he’s very dedicated to family. He’s a family man,” Debbi said. “We don’t know who the potential donors are. It’s all confidential. But we thank them with all of our hearts.”

Phil added, “It’s life and I just want to live it. Doing something like this is a super mitzvah. I can’t express the gratitude I feel.”

If you or someone you know would like to help, visit papaphilcan.com to sign up for a blood test and find out if you’re a match.

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