Middlebrook teacher MaryEllen Epstein with her husband, Eric, and their two children

Middlebrook teacher Mary Ellen Epstein has taught science at the school for the past 20 years. Now the 6th-grade teacher is hoping science will save her husband’s life.

Eric Epstein was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease a little over two years ago. “I have always been a big man and did not have a good understanding of how my lifestyle choices and genetics could conspire to leave me chronically ill,” he writes on the Facebook page that’s been created to keep people posted on the battle to save his life. “I met my wife later in life and we married about seven years ago. It was only after I got married and had my first child that I began to understand how to take care of my health. Unfortunately, by that time, most of the damage had been done.”

It was around the time that Mary Ellen was pregnant with their second child that he saw a doctor who explained just how ill he was. He was told he needed to get his kidneys checked–and found out he needed a kidney transplant to live.

Since getting the news, Eric has strictly followed the advice of his doctors, undergoing gastric surgery to lose 100 pounds, and changing his diet and exercise.

“I am committed to turning this around and living a full life with my family,” he says. But the only thing that will ensure he can do that is a new kidney.

Mary Ellen and Eric have two small children–a daughter who is six and a son who is three. Both of my kids love to be outside and help us around the house. “My greatest joy is playing with my children. We live near the Appalachian Trail and I used to take my children hiking. I no longer have the energy to take them hiking,” he writes.

The impact is significant and takes an emotional toll on everyone. “My ability to spend quality time with my children, running around the backyard and playing, is severely limited. I also need to be on dialysis in a controlled environment for hours, leaving my wife to care for our kids, [6-month-old rescue] puppy and the house full time. I feel as though I am watching my family’s best years slip away because of my illness.”

Something else Eric is no longer able to do is to continue the renovation work on the family’s home that he and Mary Ellen had been working on themselves. They’ve lived in the house since before they were married. “We have poured our family’s hard work and love into our home, restoring and renovating it with the help of neighbors and friends. We celebrated our wedding in our backyard and will cherish that day forever,” Eric writes, adding he can no longer take care of the property himself.

One other casualty has been the volunteer work Eric has been committed to for year. He’s been a volunteer fireman since he was a teenager, eventually serving as the fire chief for 13 years. He currently serves as the president of the Litchfield County Dispatch (LCD) Board of Directors, which oversees the local 911 emergency dispatch center in Northwest Connecticut. He used to take call every Tuesday night as a volunteer Emergency Medical Responder (E.M.R.), but can no longer do that or continue to serve the Fire Department because of the time he needs for daily dialysis.

Eric’s biggest worry is how Mary Ellen will be able to take care of everything while he is sick.

“I look forward to giving her some time to take care of herself and taking away the worried look on her face,” he writes, adding, “I want to play with my carefree children and make plans for our future.”

Cost of the Average Kidney Transplant–$440,000

If a suitable match for Eric can be found, it will require that he and Mary Ellen relocate for a minimum of three months, to a hospital 1,200 miles away. Their children will remain at home, and it’s likely that Mary Ellen won’t be able to take many trips home because of COVID-19. She will need to take an unpaid leave of absence to help Eric recover. That, plus the cost of medicine Eric will need daily to suppress his immune system so his body won’t reject the new kidney, means the family will take on a significant financial burden.

“After talking with the doctors and social workers we found out the average kidney transplant costs over $440,000,” he writes.

His transplant team advised Eric and Mary Ellen to partnered with the National Foundation for Transplants to help fundraise and meet their financial needs. With their help, 97% of any donations will go directly to Eric’s medical costs.

“I know times are tough for everyone but I need to ask for your help. Any donation you can make would be greatly appreciated,” he adds.

To help Eric Epstein and his family, visit their fundraising webpage.

Published with permission of Eric and Mary Ellen Epstein.