KENLY, NC – If Ronald Renfrow had held on for the victory in the season opening race on April 11th at Southern National Motorsports Park, it would have been a popular win with the fans and with the Kenly native.
Renfrow’s career best race came months after the 35-year-old from Kenly, North Carolina donated a kidney, indirectly, to his close, personal friend, 45-year-old Brent Pope from Kenly. Pope had diabetes since hwas 18-months-old and has spent several years on dialysis with deteriorating health. Prior to the decline in his health, Pope and Renfrow, who have been close personal friends for over 20 years, went hunting and fishing together.
“The last four years, three and a half years, Brent’s been on dialysis,” Renfrow said. “It started getting worse. I looked at us, I’m 35 and he’s 45, not a whole lot of difference between us. For a 24 hour period, he’d lay flat on his back for 13-14 hours. When he’d come outside or when we’d go hunting, he couldn’t go hunting in the morning. He had to hook up to the machine.”
Renfrow was not an organ donor. He had never considered it. One evening, that changed.
“I was not an organ donor prior to this,” Renfrow stated. Wife, Melissa, was an organ donor, I was not. I didn’t put a lot of thought into doing it. I was kind of one of those believers that, if you come in the world with it, you leave with it. Never been educated about this. One night, I was in the shower. Good Lord laid it on my heart and said if I can help this man, I need to help this man.
“When I approached my wife with it, she thought I was crazy because she knows how I am. It’s like, somebody’s saying ‘it’ll be alright, you need to do this’. One of my good friends stopped by the house two days later that they had prayer at Kenly Missionary Baptist Church, where they go to church, praying for a kidney. What’s so ironic about it, out of the blue, I thought and they had prayer. The Lord working put this whole plan together. I talked to my wife, I didn’t tell Brent.”
There was a problem. Renfrow’s blood type was not a match. That problem was answered with a new solution.
“I called Duke University, went through the formality of getting tested, had to do all this preliminary blood work. Then, I didn’t hear anything. A couple months went by and heard back, they said my blood type was A-negative and he’s O-positive. We weren’t a match. So, I never heard anything. Amy Kanabi, the Duke transplant coordinator, she followed-up with me about a year later and asked if I would be interested in a match-pair donation. So, I went back to Duke, they explained what it was.
“This whole time, Brent’s health continued to deteriorate. So, I got a phone call one day saying ‘come to Duke’. So I went to Duke, got tested. It was about a three month process. What they did was, Brent was a recipient that needed a kidney. I was going to be Brent’s donor. Well, I could not donate directly to Brent. So, by doing that, Brent was on a transplant list but since he was coming into the picture with a donor that was not applicable to him, they had to find him a donor. So they went through a list of donors to find Brent a match. So, now they had to find a match for mine.”
They would find that match and, with the organ pairing process, Renfrow donated a kidney to David Whiteford while LaDonna Hernandez donated a kidney to Pope.
“They found a gentleman named David Whiteford out of Durham. He’s an engineer. He had a kidney disease, was on dialysis. He got my kidney and LaDonna Hernandez from Chapel Hill donated to Brent. We all went in that morning at 5:30 on November 17, 2014. Surgeries lasted about four and a half hours and mine was six and a half hours. Came out of surgery, stayed in the hospital about three days. Come home, got to watch what you do.”
Renfrow said the kidney donation was a success and Pope is healthier than he’s been in recent history.
“Today, Brent’s off dialysis, he’s farming, at the track, planting the field, it’s been a complete turnaround.”
That kidney donation did affect Renfrow temporarily. During the first of two win races in the season opener on April 11th, Renfrow found himself in pain relating to the kidney donation and felt the need to get out of the car after the first race – which he was leading up until the third turn on the final lap of the race.
“We tested, made 10 lap runs and it didn’t bother me bad,” Renfrow explained. “I felt pretty comfortable in the car. About lap 25, we took the lead. I told my guys ‘if we weren’t leading this thing, I’d pull in’. The belts in the car and the way the car throws you in the corner, my left side where they took my left kidney kind of made it sore. Since that race, I’ve talked to Duke. They’re going to do a scan but they told me everything’s fine and it’s just scar tissue. Just got to heal up. If I won the race, I still wouldn’t have got back in for the second race.”
The good thing for Renfrow was that he had Langley Speedway regular Matt Waltz, 25, from Newport News, Virginia working with him. Waltz has scored 15 career Late Model Stock Car victories, all of which coming at Langley Speedway up in Hampton, Virginia.
“The coolest thing about that car was having Matt Waltz and anybody who knows Matt knows he can wheel. He’s a man to contend with at Langley and Martinsville. He just couldn’t close out the deal. He has my luck. He had to start at the rear, worked his way through the field and was passing [Devin Steele] for fifth on lap 19 and the ball joint nut comes loose. The car speaks for itself. Two different drivers on the same night and the car had the same result. I’m definitely optimistic this year, looking to make a run at the championship this year.”
Now healthy and feeling like he can go the distance, Renfrow has his sights set on the Jerry Moody Memorial, which is being held on Sunday, May 17th at Southern National Motorsports Park. He knows he faces some tough competition in the race, but he’s hopeful he can score his first career Late Model victory.
“If we’re in the right position at the end of the race, we got just as good a chance as anybody in the field to win that race as lo g as we take care of the car and don’t tear anything up. It would be a dream come true to win. It would be a testimony to the Good Lord above for what he’s done for a regular Joe like me just to spread his word and tell people what organ donation is about. I love racing and just for that to happen, it would be special. We’ve got 50-60 people to watch me race.”
Renfrow’s story was also featured in the April 8th print edition of the Kenly News.
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