From coach to advocate: KidneyNation spotlight

Bill coaching | Photo © Bill Lawson III

Bill Lawson III comes from a legendary family in Petersburg, Virginia. His mother was a school administrator, his grandmother was a teacher, and both his father and grandfather were coaches in this big sports town. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a well-known high school basketball coach and athletic director—he has been coaching basketball for nearly 20 years and leading the athletic department for nearly 10 years at the same school where his father worked. He also followed in his father’s footsteps into kidney disease.

Bill crashed into dialysis on Thanksgiving about 10 years ago. He was not feeling well and his feet were very swollen. His wife encouraged him to go to urgent care, where they ran some tests and recommended that he go to the hospital immediately. He was diagnosed with kidney failure and had to begin dialysis at the hospital. Bill was on dialysis for almost nine years before receiving a kidney transplant. He only missed coaching two games during the entire time he was on dialysis, but he likes to point out that he still made it to the games to cheer the team on from the sidelines.

The number one thing Bill says he wish he knew before being diagnosed with kidney disease is the importance of going to the doctor to get regular checkups, especially since he also has diabetes and high blood pressure—the two leading causes of kidney disease. He now tells the students he works with to go to the doctor, take any medicines they are on as prescribed and always know their lab work.

Bill credits the American Kidney Fund (AKF) and its donors for providing financial assistance that saved his life. He attended AKF’s annual gala, The Hope Affair, where he was inspired to fight kidney disease himself after hearing the stories of the people who were honored at the event.

One of Bill’s former students, Du’Vaughn Maxwell, who now plays professional basketball in France, gave him the idea of hosting an all-star alumni basketball tournament to raise money for AKF through AKF’s KidneyNation do-it-yourself fundraising program. Bill likes to say, “when you’re part of the Petersburg basketball family, you’re family for life,” so he decided to give the tournament a go.

Many basketball and football players who used to be in Bill’s athletic program played in the tournament, including Frank Mason III from the Milwaukee Bucks, Quinton Spain from the Buffalo Bills and another NBA player who wanted to be there for Bill, even though he had just signed a contract with a new team the morning of the game. Even people who played under his father came back for the game, including some from back in 1973.

Bill was so touched by everyone’s support for both him and others fighting kidney disease that he may host another tournament in 2021. He is taking this year off to spend time with his family because he missed so much time with those who mean the most to him while he was on dialysis. As he is thinking about a future tournament, he shares some advice for others who would like to raise money through KidneyNation: “Have a vision or dream and get your loved ones to help you see it through. You don’t have to do it alone!”

Learn more about KidneyNation and get tips on how to start a successful fundraiser at KidneyNation.org.

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About the Author(s)

Elissa Blattman

Elissa Blattman is the Associate Director of Communications at the American Kidney Fund.

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