From all appearances, Brandon Hodges is the same active, energetic man he has always been. He handles his daily duties of teaching physical education and coaching junior varsity girls basketball at The Oakwood School. In the spring, he will turn his attention to his real passion, baseball.
Every chance he gets, he heads out to the woods with friends or his children, Isaac, 13, and Cali, 8, or even his wife of 18 years, Anna, for a day of hunting. The time in nature is as much therapeutic as it is recreational.
Inside, Hodges’ kidneys are failing. Since the age of 14, he has known he has IgA nephritis, also known as Berger disease. The rare condition occurs when the immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibody lodges in the kidneys, resulting in inflammation that eventually hampers the kidneys’ ability to filter wastes from blood.
Until recently, Hodges has experienced no symptoms and really never thought about when they might surface. The Hertford County native was too busy living life, being a coach, father and husband. The demands of that began to take their toll — or at least he thought so.
“I was just really tired,” Hodges said. “I chalked it to being old, or being older, being 42 and trying to keep up. It made perfect sense.
“I’m used to being on the go, hunting and doing all sorts of stuff. It was blowing me out of the water.”
There is no cure for Hodges. His kidney function since February has fluctuated between 12 percent and 16 percent, putting him on the cusp of stage-five kidney disease. Without a transplant, he will need dialysis — a step he wants to avoid as long as possible.
“It’s a disease that progressively gets worse as you get older,” Hodges said. “I’ve been very, very blessed that it has just now started in the last year, year and a half. I haven’t had any issues up until now.
“My doctors want me to stay off dialysis,” Hodges said. “Right now, the way my numbers are, I could be on dialysis, but bless God I’m OK. I’m not at that point where my body needs it. But I’m a flu or a bad cold away from being put on dialysis.”
Seeking a donor
The disease lurking inside Hodges may not have been detected without a go-cart accident when he was 14 and the attention of an alert doctor.
Dr. Louanne Baldree ordered more testing on Hodges after seeing blood in his urine and a high protein count. About a month later, he got the diagnosis of kidney disease.
Only those closest to Hodges knew — and he wanted it that way. Not even his high school baseball coach of four years was aware. Nothing during coaching stops at his alma mater of Hertford County, Pitt Community College, South Central High School, Ridgecroft School or Oakwood hinted that anything was wrong.
“I’ve never really told anybody,” Hodges said.
An article in his hometown paper, The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, and his network of Facebook friends changed that. News of Hodges’ condition and the need for a donor quickly spread, bringing in a flood of prayers and well-wishes. A GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/
The support inspired Hodges, but frustration arose when potential donors tried to help. Hodges has been on the deceased kidney transplant list since July. His A-positive blood type can mean a wait of three to five years, so a match for a live donor is his best option.
He was referred to Duke Medical Center but has met a roadblock with insurance.
“People started calling, and Duke was putting them on hold because my insurance won’t pay,” Hodges said. “Duke is like pumping the brakes. We finally got people calling, and now you’re turning them down. … That’s the frustrating part. My health right now is good enough where I’m not really worried about that. It’s the part that we finally got people calling, we’ve finally got people motivated to want to help.”
Hodges urges people to continue to call. Anyone wishing to be tested as a match must give Hodges’ full name — Rodney Brandon Hodges — and birthday — May 30, 1975.
The number is 919-613-7777.
“Don’t stop calling,” he said. “Burn their phone up, burn ‘em up.”
Leaning on faith
Hodges said he is often asked how he remains positive and seems happy given his circumstances. His answer is simple.
“I have all the faith in God that it’s going to work out, that I’m going to get a donor,” he said. “But I don’t want it to be about me, and everybody I talk to is like, ‘You don’t understand, it is you.’ I told them, ‘I want people to see God in me.’ I want them to see how I handle it with God’s help.
“He’s helping me through this whole thing, and He’s been by my side from day one,” Hodges said. “I didn’t understand that at an early age until I got saved when I was 20-something years old. But from the time I was 20 years old until now He’s been right there with me through this whole thing, and He’s going to continue to be. That’s what I want people to see.”
Hodges said facing a personal trial has only strengthened his faith and can’t imagine how anyone endures a crisis without it.
“Having faith is the most important part,” he said. “Someone not having God and having to deal with this, I don’t know how they do it, could not fathom in my mind how they do it without Him. We’re going to get through it. God’s got a plan. We’re going to see what happens.”
Prayers and support from his church family at Unity Church in Greenville, from friends and former players, teammates and fellow coaches help boost his spirits. But day to day, the encouragement he gets at home sustains him.
“My wife, Anna, she keeps me grounded,” he said. “We go day by day. We take Monday, we do Monday. We take Tuesday, we’ll do Tuesday. That’s how we’ve been doing it since I was given the news earlier in the year. It’s worked out pretty good.
“My children have been great. They understand what Daddy’s getting ready to go through and the help I need from them and the help that Mama needs from them. It’s been fun for me to watch how my two have responded to this. … I’m almost eating it up in a roundabout way.”
So even when he doesn’t feel like the old Brandon, he tries not so show it.
“I tell people a lot of times, you’ve got to fake it to make it,” he said. “Some days I fake it to make it. It’s not a lot of days, but some days during the week
you’ve just got to go. You can’t stop; you’ve got to go. I’ve got two kids to raise, and I can’t stop doing that.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions. Some days, to be honest with you, I could cry. But other days I’m upbeat I’m happy like I always am.”