Massillon man, 20, turns to music while facing the difficult wait for a kidney transplant

AKRON, Ohio - Once a week inside Akron Children's Hospital, Chris Blackwell tries to drown out the whooshing sound of a dialysis machine connected to him by singing.

"If I didn't have the escape with music, I would lose my mind," Blackwell said.

Each Wednesday, Sarah Tobias, the hospital's music therapy coordinator, strums her guitar and sings along while Blackwell's blood is cleaned, a process that can take up to six hours.

"He's such an inspiration because he is having such a difficult time with his illness, but he's always smiling," Tobias said.

At the age of 17 and a senior at Canton McKinley High School, Blackwell noticed fatigue, burning in his legs and swollen feet. It seemed like his body was shutting down.

"I kept going to the pediatrician and he kept saying that he saw protein in my urine, which was a sign that my kidneys were failing," Blackwell recalled.

In November of 2012, doctors diagnosed him with end stage renal disease. Blackwell felt like his world was falling apart.

"My life was about to change. I have a life-threatening disease and it's over," he thought.

Blackwell was placed on a kidney transplant waiting list and more than three years later, he's still hoping and praying that a donor will be found.

While at home, he plays his guitar, makes up songs on the fly and imagines he is somewhere else, free of his disease.

"Most of the time, I honestly see myself on stage like performing before a crowd and singing my heart out to people."

He undergoes dialysis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and again, depends on music to get him through the low moments.

In the hospital's dialysis unit, music therapy provides a much-needed distraction from the treatments that often cause cramping feelings and a drop in blood pressure.

Tobias spends time talking with Blackwell to get a handle on his mindset before deciding which songs they will sing together.

"We're not only making music together, but I'm empathizing with what he's feeling. We both feel something with the music," she said.

During a recent session, the two harmonized together beautifully during a version of "Make You Feel My Love" by Bob Dylan.

"I'm not on dialysis when I'm singing," Blackwell said.

He has experienced an emotional rollercoaster over the last few years as he waits for word of a possible donor.

Recently, a friend of his mother agreed to donate one of her kidneys and appeared to be a perfect match. However, medical problems with the donor prevented the transplant from going forward.

Across the country, 120,000 people are waiting for a life-saving transplant. In Northeast Ohio, about 1,800 people need a transplant - more than 1,300 of them need a kidney.

To learn more about how you can become on organ donor, go to lifebanc.org .

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