When their son, uncle, father, brother, friend, died as a result of complications from kidney disease, the Patton family became passionate about helping others battling kidney disease.
Denise Patton wears a shirt with a peace sign. She sits on a couch next to a colorful Bob Marley pillow. She speaks methodically using descriptors like “old soul,” and “hippie.”
She smiles through tears and shows stacks of photographs of her son Mason Patton – at family parties, beach vacations, and holidays. The Patton’s Crawfordsville New England saltbox home sits along the scenic Sugar Creek. Mason was in the fifth grade when the family built the home and he worked alongside his dad, Mark constructing a fireplace on the deck overlooking the wooded seven acres.
Ten years would pass before Mason Patton received his first kidney transplant.
Denise Patton knew about Alport syndrome. Her father fought it through dialysis until he died at the age of 59. Denise is the only one of five children who is a carrier of the disease. She has no symptoms but remains in the care of IU Health physician Dr. Dennis Mishler and receives annual check ups.
That son that Denise calls an “old soul,” “a hippie,” was three when he was diagnosed with Alport syndrome. The genetic kidney disease that typically passes from father to daughter, daughter to son is characterized by loss of hearing and sight and progressively leads to loss of kidney function.
Mason Patton was in the care of physicians at Riley Hospital for years and was told that he would most likely need a kidney transplant in his 20s. Five days before his 21st birthday, Mason Patton received his first kidney transplant from his uncle Mike Patton. The transplant lasted 10 years; he went back on dialysis for a year. Thirteen years after his first transplant, Mason received a second transplant at IU Health University Hospital, donated by his cousin. But complications continued.
On March 14, 2014 Mason was admitted to a Lafayette hospital to have his fistula removed when Denise Patton heard the “code blue.” She knew then that it was her son.
“Hemodialysis is life saving but it is also hard on your heart. I think his heart gave out,” said Denise Patton. Mason was 38. He was the father of Stella, little brother to Katina Curran and uncle to Levi, Cole, Cody and Emma Curran.
“Uncle Mason was always happy. The person you want to be,” said Emma Curran, 16. “He was a daring toddler always asking me to wreck him on his Big Wheel and when he played baseball he always slid into base even when he didn’t need to,” said Mason’s sister. Mason graduated from North Montgomery High School and also played football and soccer over the years. “He was popular with boys and girls and had lots of friends,” said Katina Curran. A week after he died, 400 people showed up to pay their respects to the guy who had planned his funeral officiated by the father of one of his best friends. Mason loved concerts and chose music by Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson and the Grateful Dead. Those memories are bittersweet for his family.
“Mason didn’t want to be defined by his medical issues,” said Curran. “He loved life – snow skiing, zip lining, snorkeling. And he didn’t know a stranger. He was always helping someone else.”
Even before the heartbreaking loss of March 14, 2014 the Patton family participated in the National Kidney Foundation Walk. The annual walk is dedicated to awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease. Every year, the Pattons have increased their commitment to fundraising and support for kidney disease.
Denise Patton serves as a board member for the National Kidney Foundation and their circle of supporters has grown to include other kidney donors and recipients and those fighting kidney disease or awaiting transplants. Two years after Mason’s death, the family was named the top fundraising team in the state and the 11th fundraising team in the nation. This year, they raised enough funds to send 20 children to the annual Kidney Camp – for youth 8-18 – held at Camp Tecumseh in Lafayette. Several family members also volunteer at the camp – a place where kids with kidney disease can take part in many of the activities that Mason loved – zip lining, listening to music and hanging with friends.
For Denise Patton the faces of those campers are a connection to her son.
“There was a teenage girl so upset before camp because her transplant was scheduled and she didn’t want to miss camp. That would have been Mason – never wanting to miss out on an adventure,” said Patton. In addition to participating in camp and the annual walk, the family’s schools have staged fundraisers, the family plans a November gala, they help patients with transportation and other personal needs, and distribute gifts to dialysis patients and goodies to hospital staff. Mostly, they want to get the word out about the importance of kidney donation.
“Our main goal is to educate people about organ donation,” said Denise Patton. “Yes we are advocates and I think Mason is keeping his memory alive through us. He wouldn’t be boastful but I think he’d be grateful.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org.