TEGA CAY — Five weeks ago, Eddie Zimmerman was dying.
Now he has been given a second chance at life.
Zimmerman, 47, is a Tega Cay-based musician and teacher known locally as Eddie Z. He was diagnosed with renal failure in July 2012. After nearly two years of constant pain and emotional turmoil, Zimmerman received a kidney on May 14 from his longtime girlfriend Vicki Shackleford, 47, who happened to be a match.
“It’s amazing how things work out,” he said. “It’s a miracle.”
As someone who often helps others, Zimmerman isn’t used to requesting it for himself.
Zimmerman is the owner of The Playroom Academy of Music in Baxter Village and The Playroom, a recording and rehearsal studio in Charlotte. He is also a founding member of Charity Case band, which, in the 13 years since its inception, has raised more than $1 million for Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids, a nonprofit organization that takes terminally ill and chronically handicapped children and their families for an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World.
Charity Case will host a benefit concert for Zimmerman and his family at 8 p.m. on June 20 at the NC Music Factory in Charlotte. The concert will feature special guest Fiftywatt Freight Train, a Charlotte-based hard rock quartet. Proceeds will help Zimmerman with his medical expenses.
This will be the first Charity Case concert Zimmerman won’t be able to attend, but he said he is thankful for everyone involved.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he said.
After his diagnosis, Zimmerman’s condition quickly worsened. The doctor gave him just eight days to live unless he started dialysis, the clinical purification of blood. Zimmerman relied on Shackleford and his son Alex Zimmerman, 13, for support.
Alex will be entering eighth grade at Gold Hill Middle this fall. Zimmerman said Alex and his mom Laurian Kenney, who lives in Tega Cay, have been instrumental in spreading his story on social media and organizing support.
Though he had dialysis three days a week, Zimmerman continued to do shows with Charity Case, even stepping onstage at the Charlotte Motor Speedway the same day he was diagnosed.
“I was too stubborn not to play,” Zimmerman said. “It gave me something to look forward to.”
As his condition worsened, Zimmerman publicly announced his illness on the Ace and TJ Show, which airs mornings on “The Beat” 96.1, in July 2013. He also launched a website, eddiezneedsakidney.com, to raise awareness about organ donation and share his story. The result was an overwhelming outpouring of support, even from complete strangers, Zimmerman said.
“It’s very humbling,” he said. “We’ve been blown away.”
Though plenty of people came forward offering to donate their kidneys, Zimmerman said it was difficult to find a match. After many failed attempts to find a donor, Shackleford sent in her own blood to be tested, with Zimmerman unaware.
Shackleford was a match. Zimmerman said he was both thankful and scared about how the donation would affect her.
“It was a whole other set of things to worry about,” he said.
Shackleford said she didn’t think twice about helping the man she has spent 11 years with.
“How could you not?” she said.
Shackleford recently became a licensed practical nurse and is currently applying for positions, Zimmerman said. She hopes to work in transplant operations.
Throughout Zimmerman’s transplant, the couple continued to have support.
Zimmerman’s surgery had some complications and lasted hours longer than planned, but it was successful. He credits its success to the transplant team at Carolinas Medical Center and the staff at Metrolina Nephrology Associates in Charlotte.
“They have been unbelievable,” he said.
Zimmerman and Shackleford are still healing.
“Vicki gave us both an opportunity to live,” he said. “It’s an act of giving I’ve never experienced before.”
The couple, who has lived in Tega Cay for nine years, is moving back to Charlotte. Zimmerman had previously spent 11 years there, including two of with Shackleford. He said they are looking forward to being back in the city.
“We’re healing and moving forward with life,” he said.
Zimmerman plans to continue to raise funds with Charity Case and share his story in the hopes of inspiring kidney donors.
“I still have people to touch,” he said. “If I can keep one person off a machine, I’ve accomplished a mission.”