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Media personality Steve Brown’s family: Dad needs a kidney

Cornell Brown, left, is leading the family effort to find a kidney transplant for his father, veteran sportscaster Steve Brown
Cornell Brown, left, is leading the family effort to find a kidney transplant for his father, veteran sportscaster Steve Brown
Lee Benson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — We’re going to have to take his word for it, but Steve Brown lays claim to a record he’d like to keep alive.

For the past 28 years he and his fishing buddy Mark Huish have been taking their boat to Deer Creek Reservoir — and they’ve always caught fish.

“Never been skunked, neither one of us, not once, in 28 years,” insists Brownie, a longtime Utah media personality.

“Call Huish,” he proclaims. “He’ll back me up.”

Like I said, we’re going to have to trust him on that.

But these days, Steve has bigger fish to fry; much bigger, as it turns out. Over the course of the last year and a half he has battled kidney disease. His condition has deteriorated to the point that he is now undergoing regular dialysis treatments. The doctors have told him he is at stage 5 renal failure. There is no stage 6.

He sorely needs a kidney transplant.

Steve, who has spent the past 48 years talking to the public, didn’t make this news public. His kids did. Two weeks ago, sons Cornell, Trevor, Stuart and Spencer posted the alert on their family Facebook page that their father could use some help. For a variety of medical reasons, no one in their immediate or extended family has been able to qualify as an acceptable donor. So they took to social media to get the word out that an outside donor is keenly needed and would be gratefully appreciated.

Steve does have a sister, Debbie, who is ready and waiting to donate her kidney. The trouble is, Debbie’s blood type is AB and Steve’s is O, so she isn’t a match. As an alternative, she has put her name on a “paired” list, meaning if there’s a would-be donor out there who is also a nonmatch for their loved one, they could do a switch, an AB for an O.

But Debbie’s name has been on the paired registry for a year and a half and still no takers.

Also, Steve’s doctors have placed his name on the national United Network for Organ Sharing waitlist — putting him in line for a kidney from someone who has donated their organs when they die. It is a long line, numbering close to 100,000 hopefuls. It can take four years or more to reach the top of the first-come, first-serve list — years he may not have.

* * *

After learning about Steve’s plight (first from a tweet by his colleague Austin Horton that referenced the Facebook post), I messaged Steve’s son Cornell, asking how his dad was doing. Cornell suggested we have lunch and I could ask him myself.

Steve and I both trace our media roots back to 1972, the year we each started getting paid to watch other people play ballgames — me as a high school sports writer for the D-News; him for radio station KUSU-FM in Logan calling Utah State Aggie junior varsity basketball games.

After he graduated from USU, Steve spent a year at KIFI in Idaho Falls, 16 years as sports anchor for Channel 4 in Salt Lake City and the past 29 years working for KJZZ, the TV station Larry H. Miller started in 1991. Name the sport, he has talked about it, from basketball and football to fishing and cycling and everything in between.

After agreeing neither one of us could possibly be this old, I told Steve that I was both pleased and surprised to be having lunch with someone who is at stage 5.

Thus began my crash course in understanding kidney disease — a condition that is not obvious or easy to identify. The person at the next table could be in kidney failure, too, said Steve, and we would be none the wiser.

The same can also be true, Steve further noted, for someone whose kidneys are shutting down. In his case, even though he’s had Type 2 diabetes since he was 40, he remained largely oblivious that he was in serious danger until the day a year and a half ago when Cornell drove him to the hospital because “he just didn’t look right.”

Hours later, he was strapped into a bed in the intensive care unit. He spent two nights in the hospital as his kidneys were revived. Since then, the deterioration has been slow, steady and unrelenting, until he was put on dialysis the first of August.

“Here’s the thing about kidney disease and kidney failure,” Steve said. “It’s like the frog in the hot water, one degree at a time. I’ve discovered there are hundreds of thousands of people who are starting to have renal disease and there are no protocols we have in our everyday life to tell us it’s happening. That’s what’s struck me about this; how many people are out there on this trajectory and have no knowledge of it. Checking your kidneys is just not something most people do, and then when it happens, boom!”

He spoke of “this huge club I’m just finding out about that I’m now a member of. I don’t want to be a member for very long if I can possibly do it, and I don’t want anyone else to be a member. If I can be of any use in making others aware, I’d like to do that. There are things you can watch for. Once you get told, it’s almost too late.

“The last few months have been life-changing,” my friend said, in bad ways and good. “It’s humbled me. I look at things differently. I think it’s something I’m supposed to go through, and however it ends up is the way it’s supposed to happen. Would I love to get the kidney? Yeah. That’s how the plan according to Steve would go, you get the kidney, you go back to work, you get another 15 to 20 years with your kids and grandkids. But if not, I mean I’ve always known intrinsically that somebody else is in charge, but it’s hard for me to give it over to someone else. I’ve done that over the last year and it’s made a big difference in how I live my life.”

The dialysis treatments take a big chunk out of his week — 3 1/2-hour sessions every other day. But they’re not physically painful and they do have him feeling like his old self. He played golf with his boys for the first time in over a year at the end of July, and he’s back out in his fishing boat.

It was talking about fishing that brought up his and Huish’s reputed 28-year no-skunk streak at Deer Creek.

“I am proud of that,” said the veteran sportscaster. “I’d like to keep that going if I can; I’d like to keep that going for a good long time.”