Social Media Connects Alameda Firefighter with Kidney Transplant Donor

Frank Lima &nbsp Brandon Baley, right, sits in his hospital bed after receiving a new kidney. He is pictured with Frank Lima, Union President & Fire Captain at United Firefighters of Los Angeles.
Frank Lima -- Brandon Baley, right, sits in his hospital bed after receiving a new kidney. He is pictured with Frank Lima, Union President & Fire Captain at United Firefighters of Los Angeles.

Social Media Connects Alameda Firefighter with Kidney Transplant Donor

Alameda firefighter Brandon Baley received a life-saving kidney transplant after making a connection with his donor through social media.

Baley, an 11-year veteran of the Alameda Fire Department, was diagnosed with Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis or (FSGS) in January 2019. FSGS is a disease in which scar tissue develops on the glomeruli, the small parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood. Baley believes he might have received the disease after battling the Camp Fire in Butte County in November 2018 (“Firefighters Return, Defeat Local Blaze,” Nov. 27, 2018).

A study commissioned by San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation states, “the aggregate results of the November 2018 Camp Fire study raises major concerns. The results indicate that immediately post fire, firefighters were carrying in their bodies a mixture of chemical toxicants, including flame retardants, stain and water repellent substances, and some heavy metals at levels higher than those found in the general US population.”

After receiving his diagnosis, doctors at UC Davis began monitoring his blood tissue. In June 2021 doctors told Baley he would need a kidney transplant. Doctors at UC Davis put Baley on the kidney transplant donor list. Even with the diagnosis, Baley, the President of Alameda Firefighters IAFF Local 689, continued working as a firefighter at Alameda Fire Station #1, located at the intersection of Park Street and Encinal Avenue.

After learning his fate, his girlfriend Coryn, created posts on Facebook and Instagram detailing Baley’s need for a kidney donor.

“Without her, I can guarantee that we would have had a funeral long before transplant surgery,” wrote Baley in a letter posted on the Alameda Firefighters Local 689 website. “She is my rock and the reason I have been able to get to this point.”

The post was reposted by firefighters, fire departments and fire unions throughout the country. On New Year’s Eve 2021, Michelle Lee, a San Lorenzo resident, read the post and felt compelled to help.

“I always wanted to donate a kidney,” said Lee. “My dad, best friend and another friend all died due to terminal illness. I felt like it was something I had to do.”

After reading the post on Instagram, Lee reached out to a friend of hers who is a firefighter for the Oakland Fire Department. By coincidence that same firefighter also knew Baley. The mutual friend connected the two. In a phone conversation Lee told Brandon that she applied for the UC Davis kidney donor list.

“To my donor, Michelle, I am forever grateful for your generosity,” wrote Baley in his letter. “You have given me and my family a fresh start and a new life. You are a saint, and I wish the world had more people like you. I cannot imagine being on this journey with anyone else.”

Over the next seven months Lee went through numerous tests to see if she was a match. Simultaneously, Baley was put on dialysis.

“I wasn’t the same person I was before,” said Baley. “I had to overcome many mental and physical challenges.”

Lee faced mental challenges of her own. “I was nervous, but I did a lot of mental health prep,” said Lee. “I worked with my therapist on radical acceptance.”

What also helped Lee overcome her fears was getting to know Baley.

“I wanted to make sure that the recipient of my kidney went to somebody who was an asset to the community,” said Lee, who runs Dogney Dangerfield, a dog walking and pet sitting business in Oakland. “That’s what I felt when I got to know him. And that he is full of integrity.”

Baley and Lee had many conversations in the lead up to surgery. Baley remembers one conversation where Lee told him not to feel guilty about taking a kidney from a healthy person.

On July 1, after finding out that she was a direct match, Lee surprised Baley by telling him the news in person while he was working. Lee enlisted Baley’s fellow firefighters at Station #1 to help her with the surprise.

The kidney transplant surgery took place at UC Davis Hospital on July 26. The surgery was a success, but both are still feeling the aftermath of the operation.

“I’m not going to lie I feel like I got hit by a truck,” said lee. “But it was worth it.”

Baley took a leave from the department on July 1, after learning Lee was eligible to be his donor. He said he plans on returning to work in October after his body recovers.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Baley. “I want to thank Lee, my girlfriend, my family and all the firefighters who helped. They were all a huge support network.”