Like the title? I was going for a dramatic, “Dateline NBC” motif. Anyway, at this point most of you reading this have heard of the Michigan man who is looking to trade his Adidas Yeezy 350 Boost for a kidney transplant. Now I know what you’re thinking because I had the same reaction. Who would be desperate enough to want to trade something so valuable, like a pair of Yeezy’s, for something so inconsequential like a kidney? Well, that man is 26 year old, Ann Arbor native Matt Neal. And within hours of posting his facetious trade request online his story became viral. But like all viral stories that circulate the internet, all you got out of his story was a headline and two paragraphs. No depth, no details. It’s like any added information would’ve somehow weighed down the story’s viral momentum like an anchor.
After having the pleasure of being introduced to Matt Neal by Ty Mopkins at this past weekend’s Sneaker Con Detroit event, I was able to talk to him and find out that he was a funny, down-to-earth guy and that he saw this situation as bigger than himself and a pair of shoes. So because of that I wanted to give more of his story through this interview.
SBD: Ok, we know about your present situation but what about your background? Where did you grow up?
MATT: I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan, born and raised. From an outsider’s perspective, people think of Ann Arbor as this little uppity town where everybody has money. I’m like “no dude, I’m from ‘Scio Farms’ trailer park.” (Laughs). I’ve lived here my whole life. The only other time I’ve been out of Michigan is when I traveled with a flea market for about 7 years.
SBD: Wait. (Laughs) You traveled with a flea market?
MATT: (laughs) Yeah. It was just a way to travel outside of Michigan.
SBD: (laughs) Ok, I understand. But getting serious for a second, what exactly is your situation health-wise and how long have you been dealing with it?
MATT: I got the disease from when I was in the 3rd grade from a bad case of strep throat. It’s called IgA nephropathy also known as Berger’s disease. Not to be too graphic, but I urinated blood one day when I was in class. I went to my teacher and then I got tested that day. Found out that my kidneys were gonna start failing and there was no cure for it. There’s nothing I can do [to fix it]. There is stuff I can do to keep them going longer like not drinking alcohol. I didn’t drink alcohol when I was 16, 17 years old while everyone else was partying. I did everything in my power, I thought, to keep them from failing. And I made it all the way to 24 without them failing. But now I’m on stage 5 renal failure and I do dialysis every night for 10 and a half hours. And now I have to be on it until I get a kidney.
SBD: Wow, it’s unfortunate that you have to go through all of that. What’s your daily routine like and what effects has it had on you?
MATT: On the daily basis I have to take a handful of meds and I have to watch my food intake, I’m on a diet. I only eat once a day anyways because I’ve been this way ever since I was younger and I’ve never had an appetite. That’s really it. Food restrictions. Diet. I can’t stay out at night. I have to be home every night to make sure I can hook up to my dialysis machine. I can’t hold a steady job because my 10 and a half hour dialysis might take 11 and a half hours because the power cuts off. This past winter I didn’t have running water for a month and a half. I was outside scooping bowls of snow, putting it in the microwave, and melting the water to wash my hands so I could do dialysis.
SBD: So with everything you’ve gone through and the amount of attention you’ve received, do you see your situation bringing the type of awareness that might also help others facing a similar issue?
MATT: Say I don’t get a kidney from this and a couple of other people do, if I’m on dialysis for the rest of my life I don’t mind. I’m just trying to help myself and other people with the situation that was given to me. It’s not ALL about me getting a kidney. It’s about bringing awareness to my situation. 2 days ago I was on the internet, the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” raised like $2.5 million and they almost found a cure because they had so much money to do these ‘trial and errors’ that they never had money to do because the government wouldn’t fund them. So just from having people dumping ice on their heads, people with ALS might have a cure. I’m just trying to get people to put a little heart on their license. That’s it. You might be able to save a life even after yours is over.
SBD: This is why we wanted to do the interview with you, so that people could fully grasp your situation. People might hear the name “Yeezy” and walk away without considering the serious implications you face. Kidney failure is a serious issue. BUT having said that, this story did go viral mainly because of the “Yeezy” name being attached to it. Not to mention your crazy trade request. What made you come up with this “trade” and was it a joke that became bigger than you could have imagined?
MATT: [The trade] just started as a joke. It was an attention grabber. I thought it would be something funny to make light of my situation. I even posted that I’ll take offers from a hypebeast but I want a kidney from a true sneakerhead. (Laughs) That was a complete joke, I’ll take a kidney from anybody. But with the publicity that this has been getting it’s become a lot bigger than this sneaker. The sneaker just made it go international, but now that this story has become international it’s a lot bigger than that. I’m gonna be able to get a kidney without giving my Yeezys away.
SBD: You seem to have a good perspective of things in the midst of all this, as well as maintaining your sense of humor, but what was it like seeing the initial response to your story?
MATT: Within the first hour of me posting it, I had noticed that it had gotten a few hundred ‘likes’. And then about 2, maybe 3 hours later somebody posted that I had made it to “Sole Collector”. I was like dang, this is getting big. I even had to post it on my Facebook like look like I made it. (Laughs). When I woke up the next morning I had so many notifications. It took me like 20 minutes to go through and read everything.
SBD: (laughs) Yeah you even made it to TMZ.
MATT: Yeah I can’t believe it. “B.E.T.” posted an article on it. “USA Today” posted an article on it. I just recently seen that my story made it to “MLive”. That’s a local newspaper for Ann Arbor, this guy named Ryan did a story on me. I can’t……I can’t believe it. People were texting me all day telling me I had made it to this and I had made it to that. What I’m gonna do is one day I’m just gonna sit down and print ‘em all out and read every single one. I can’t believe it man. I wasn’t on social media before this. The only thing I had was a Facebook, and after this started blowing up people were like “dude, if you want it to really get out there you need to make a Twitter and an Instagram [profile].” I’m in the process of making an Instagram [page], I’ve already made a Twitter [account]. But that’s the power of social media at work. I’m in awe that it blew up that fast.
SBD: The “Yeezy” name notwithstanding, how did this story go viral SO fast without you really having any social media presence?
MATT: The only reason it’s become so big is because Kanye West’s name is on there.
SBD: Does that bother you? Do you look at it as your situation playing second fiddle to his shoe or that it’s ONLY getting attention because you attached the name “Yeezy” to it?
MATT: I love it. His name being on it is one of the reasons that millions of people are gonna hear about it. But it’s gotten a lot bigger than the shoes recently. I have people hitting me up like “I don’t even want to trade the shoes, I’ll just give you a kidney.” I’m so overwhelmed that I had to take a day off. I’ve got a motorcycle and I’ve been trying to get on that the last couple of days. I just got it fixed. I haven’t been on social media or anything today. I posted a status earlier but I really haven’t been able to read anything or contact back with people. I’m just trying to take a day off so I don’t get overexerted with what’s going on. I’m trying to message each and every single person individually and give them information and not just put this out on social media. I want to actually to talk somebody individually. If they’re gonna give me an organ they at least deserve that respect from me.
SBD: See that’s something that most people wouldn’t get who’ve already heard about your story. The level of gratitude and sincerity that you have for everyone who’s reached out to help to the point that you want to respond to each person individually, and not just send some mass, blanketed response on social media, goes to show how serious this situation is for you and that you don’t take any of this for granted.
MATT: Exactly. If it comes down to where there’s 5,000 people messaging me I’m still gonna try to respond back to each one individually and say “hey, I really appreciate it.” I’ve actually being trying to reply everyday to every single person. I’m gonna look at every message that’s sent to me.
SBD: Typically people wouldn’t think that deeply about it. Something as small as responding to each person individually may seem insignificant but it’s really impactful to those looking to help your situation. So I guess at this point it goes without saying that you are, in fact, a sneakerhead. What’s your favorite shoe and can you remember your first pair?
MATT: Yep, I’ve been a sneakerhead ever since the 3rd grade actually. My favorite basketball player growing up was Allen Iverson. The first pair of Ivo’s that I bought were the low top, all-white Questions with the grey toe and the ice bottom.
SBD: I remember those. I think I had a pair of them back in high school. Ok, so you’re an Iverson fan. I guess we can also go out on a limb and assume you’re a Kanye West fan.
MATT: Yep, “Late Registration’s” 10 year anniversary was the other day. (August 30th)
SBD: Damn, you really are a fan. You know his album’s anniversary dates (laughs).
MATT: (laughs) I’m a HUGE music person. I just saw Garth Brooks when he was at Joe Louis Arena. I took my whole family to see him. But yeah, I’m a HUGE music fan.
SBD: What’s your favorite Kanye album?
MATT: Probably “Late Registration” honestly. I think I’d go “Graduation” after that maybe….but I’ll say “Late Registration” is definitely my favorite album of all time. “All Falls Down” is my favorite track from Kanye of all time.
SBD: Rumor has it that Kanye and Kim have caught wind of your story and want to help you out. What’s your response to that news?
MATT: I have no response to that honestly. I’m in utter disbelief that this made it to them and that they would even take time out of their day……if they took time out of their day to send one tweet that in itself is enough to me to where I would thank them a million times over. Just them responding and acknowledging my situation is enough for me.
SBD: If Kanye is reading this what would you like to say directly to him?
MATT: One man can really change the world. He just put out that song with Big Sean, so, if I could tell him anything it would be that. One man can change the world. If he can help me help others become aware of what’s going on that would mean the world to me.
SBD: Now you’ve mentioned awareness a couple times throughout this interview. One could assume what it is that you want the public to be aware of but what specifically do you hope to make people aware of with your situation?
MATT: Organ donating. Because it’s not just kidneys that fail. It’s so easy to get on the organ donor’s program. I wish I could pay people out of my own pocket to go into the Secretary of State or the DMV and sit there for 4 or 5 hours and pass out this little thing that says “hey, when you go up there just tell them to add this heart onto your license to be an organ donor.” But there’s levels to it.
SBD: So where do you go from here? How many people have responded to donate their kidneys and how does the future look for you going forward?
MATT: I’m getting into contact with all of these people who are gonna get tested, and once I do that it’s all about getting other people kidneys who need them. I have more than 100 people ready to be tested to see if they’re a match. A lot of people are saying “hey I can’t give you a kidney but I’m supporting you in your journey.” I ask them if they have that heart on their license and if they say no then I tell them to go get one. That’s how you can support me. If 10 people did that a day for the rest of my life then I did something. Even if I don’t get a kidney but I was able to move people to become organ donors I would still feel like I DID something.
SBD: Well said. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re rooting for you and a speedy recovery. But before I let you go I heard you have a birthday coming up.
MATT: Yeah actually I’ll be 27 this Saturday, [September 5th].
SBD: So getting a new kidney would be one hell of a birthday present huh?
MATT: (laughs) Yeah.
If you would like to get tested to see if you are a donor match for Matt you can reach him on his Facebook profile. If you aren’t able to donate but you would still like to support Matt and his cause then head to your local DMV or Secretary of State and have them add to your driver’s license that you would like to become an organ donor.