A match made in Heaven: Tega Cay couple’s kidney transplant

Special to the Fort Mill TimesJune 15, 2014 

Tega Cay resident Vicki Shackleford (left) donated her kidney to her long time partner Eddie Zimmerman, a local musician and teacher, in May. Zimmerman was diagnosed with renal failure in July 2012. He’s still recovering, but says he’s feeling better all the time.

COURTESY OF EDDIE ZIMMERMAN

— Five weeks ago, Eddie Zimmerman was dying.

Now, he has been given a second chance at life.

Zimmerman, 47, a Tega Cay-based musician and teacher known locally as Eddie Z, was diagnosed with renal failure in July 2012. After nearly two years of constant pain and emotional turmoil, Zimmerman finally received a kidney on May 14 from longtime girlfriend Vicki Shackleford, 47, who happened to be a match.

“It’s amazing how things work out,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”

As someone usually dedicated to helping others, Zimmerman isn’t used to asking for help.

Zimmerman is the owner of The Playroom Academy of Music in Baxter Village and The Playroom, a recording and rehearsal studio in Charlotte. He is also a founding member of Charity Case band, which, in the 13 years since its inception, has raised more than $1 million for Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids, a nonprofit organization that takes terminally ill and chronically handicapped children and their families for an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World each year.

Charity Case will host a benefit concert for Zimmerman and his family at 8 p.m. on June 20 at the N.C. Music Factory in Charlotte. The concert will feature special guest Fiftywatt Freight Train, a Charlotte-based hard rock quartet. Proceeds will help Zimmerman with his medical expenses.

This will be the first Charity Case concert Zimmerman won’t be able to attend. He said he is thankful for everyone involved.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said.

After his diagnosis, Zimmerman’s condition quickly worsened. The doctor gave him just eight days to live unless he started dialysis, the clinical purification of blood. Zimmerman relied on Shackleford and his son Alex Zimmerman, 13, for support.

Alex will be entering the eighth grade at Gold Hill Middle. Zimmerman said Alex and his mom Laurian Kenney, who lives in Tega Cay, have been instrumental in spreading his story on social media and organizing supporters.

Though he had dialysis three days a week, Zimmerman continued to do shows with Charity Case, even stepping on stage at the Charlotte Motor Speedway the same day he was diagnosed.

“I was too stubborn not to play,” Zimmerman said. “It gave me something to look forward to.”

As his condition progressively worsened, Zimmerman publicly announced his illness on the Ace and TJ Show in July 2013. He also launched the website eddiezneedsakidney.com to raise awareness of organ donation and share his story. The result was an overwhelming outpouring of support even from complete strangers, Zimmerman said.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “We’ve been blown away.”

Though plenty of people came forward offering to donate him their kidney, Zimmerman said it was difficult to find a match. After many failed attempts to find a donor, Shackleford sent in her own blood to be tested. Zimmerman had no idea she had taken that step, but it ended up saving his life.

Shackleford was a match. Zimmerman said he was both thankful and scared about how the donation would affect her.

“It was a whole other set of things to worry about,” he said.

Shackleford said she didn’t think twice about helping the man she has spent 11 years with.

“How could you not?” she said.

Shackleford recently became a Licensed Practical Nurse and is currently applying for positions, Zimmerman said. She hopes to work in transplant.

When the time came for Zimmerman’s transplant, the couple continued to have support in the hospital.

Zimmerman’s surgery had some complications, lasting hours longer than planned, but was successful. Zimmerman credits that success to the transplant team at Carolinas Medical Center and the staff at Metrolina Nephrology Associates in Charlotte.

“They have been unbelievable,” he said.

Though it is a process, Zimmerman and Shackleford continue to heal.

“Vicki gave us both an opportunity to live,” he said. “It’s an act of giving I’ve never experienced before.”

The couple, who has lived in Tega Cay for nine years, is moving back to Charlotte, where Zimmerman spent 11 years, including two of with Vicki. Zimmerman said they are looking forward to being back in the city.

“We’re healing and moving forward with life,” he said.

Zimmerman plans to continue to raise funds with Charity Case and sharing his story in the hopes of inspiring kidney donors.

“I still have people to touch,” he said. “If I can keep one person off a machine, I’ve accomplished a mission.”

For more information, go to eddiezneedsakidney.com.

Want to Help Eddie Z?

What: Charity Case band Benefit for Eddie Z

When: June 20, 8 p.m.

Where: NC Music Factory – 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. in Charlotte

Info: charitycaseband.com

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