Recovery from illness and family reconciliation
James Michael McLester is a professional drummer who has a great comeback story. Throughout his career, he has opened for such legendary rock acts as Pantera, Alice Cooper, Tesla, and many more. He shared the stage with former Skid Row lead vocalist Johnny Solinger in the group Solinger and performs with his Christian band SuperNova Remnant, Temple of BOOM with DJ Drue Mitchell of JUCE TV, Manafest, and the worship team at Crossroads Tabernacle Church.
But there was a period in his life when he left his family behind, turning to drugs and alcohol, eventually coming close to death, but then he was able to turn his life around. He chronicles his story in his autobiography, Wannabee Rock Star Who Finally Found The Rock. Here is his story.
So James, not only do you have a story of family reconciliation and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, but you had a near-death experience due to severe illness. How did you become ill in the first place?
I was traveling as a national marketing director for Ultimate Lifestyles representing the Wellness Formula Vitality Plus account when my associates noticed my skin tone was changing. They could clearly see I was working at an unbalanced pace on the fast track to prosperity at age 34.
I returned home in the winter of 2001 and experienced blurry vision. It prevented me from seeing clearly, and my roommate escorted me to an eye exam. Upon arrival, the doctor checked my blood pressure and it read 220/140.
I was sent immediately to Baylor Richardson Hospital, which is connected to my long-term friend and cardiologist Dr. Gary Weingarden, MD. He admitted me for emergency tests that revealed “hypertensive retinopathy” and referred me to Dallas Retina Specialty group. Indeed, further testing confirmed this diagnosis.
I was monitored every few months, and during a routine lab, my creatinine level, which measures kidney function, was elevated. I was diagnosed with stage 3-4 renal disease. The etiology of the progressive kidney disease was 15% function.
Eventually, I consulted a specialist, Dr. Lee Cowden, MD, who was a practicing cardiologist, but had turned to a holistic approach. I met Dr. Cowden during my tenure at Vital Nutrition as head buyer for Martie Whittekin, CCN. Dr. Cowden examined me and my medical history thoroughly, and after considering the eleven mercury amalgam fillings in my teeth, concluded upon further tests that the mercury (51% composition of a silver filling) had scarred the tissue in my kidneys, leading to dysfunction.
How did you feel after the diagnosis?
I felt bewildered and exhausted from all of the drastic changes from a successful traveling health educator to a patient diagnosed with anemia, hypertensive retinopathy, mercury toxicity, and end-stage renal failure at age 34. I did not brush it off. I attacked the symptoms with holistic therapies and prayer.
How did this affect you mentally and emotionally?
I was scared a bit. I was 34 years old, diagnosed with end stage renal disease. I was advised for kidney dialysis. I was uncertain of my future. I was never married nor a parent at this stage, as a traveling musician and salesman. I sincerely thought health fanatics who eat well and earn great money and think well of others would not receive a diagnosis of end-stage renal disease at age 34.
What happened then?
I was sleeping at my family’s home, as I was unable to drive or properly care for myself.
I gained over thirty pounds of fluid, leading to congestive heart failure symptoms and pulmonary edema. I would lie on the couch with pillows stacked beneath my engorged lower extremities to help myself breathe.
I was severely anemic, and my calves would crack and bleed in the shower at times. I was unable to wear shoes, since my feet were distinctly full of fluid. I recall February 7th in the wee hours of the morning, shivering and sleeping under an infrared lamp and hot house tent, fighting to stay warm.
I had followed the holistic protocol to flush the mercury from my blood, including mild chelation with vitamin C and L-glutathione. (Chelation therapy is when a synthetic solution-EDTA is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body). I may have improved slightly, yet was very ill.
Dr. Cowden called that morning, and after he reviewed my most recent blood work, advised my mother to rush me to Presbyterian Hospital [in] Dallas, Texas.
A femoral catheter was installed, emergency hemodialysis administered, and I received a blood transfusion for the first time in my life.
I was in a state of panic. My blood pressure constantly spiked under the fear, stress, and anxiety. Dialysis was repeated every day, and the fluid and wastes were removed four hours at a time. (Dialysis is a process where the kidneys’ blood is purified artificially, whereas with normal kidney function, the kidneys do this automatically). I also had a loss of consciousness and was surrounded by other patients screaming and agonizing. I had entered a living hell.
I had another surgery and became a little stronger each day as the medicine removed wastes and fluids while building my blood. To be clear, I still had all eleven mercury fillings in my teeth, and with this diagnosis of end-stage renal disease, wastes were accumulating rapidly, as I was producing very little urine.
I was surrounded by prayer, and on the morning of the seventh day, in the waking hours of dawn, I heard an audible voice speak to my spirit “James, you will LIVE and not die.”
I held on to this WORD through my dark night of the soul.
I listened to peaceful music and meditated on the Word of God.
The morning of the eighth day,I was discharged to begin outpatient hemodialysis three times weekly.
I was overjoyed to be released from the ICU and at least have a second chance at life at age 35.
Then how were you able to get the transplant? Were you on a waiting list?
Yes. I registered with my social worker at Northeast Dialysis, Ft. Worth,TX for UNOS.
How long was that waiting list?
I am unsure. I do know over 26 million Americans are currently afflicted with some form of renal disease.
Did they call you because they found a donor, and you jumped to the top of the list?
Actually, my mother, brother, and sister were all tested and a three of six HLA-tissue match.
However, various circumstances, such as finances, my maternal grandfather’s death, and bad timing further delayed the process. Additionally, two living donors were rejected because they had diabetes and hypertension.
So then came along Laura Suarez. Please tell us about her.
Laura is my rescue angel. We met in the eighties around music and became very good friends who fell out of touch for twenty-seven years.
Laura, suddenly messaged me in June of 2014 to check on me. We had no point of contact prior to this. We decided to meet for dinner and catch up.
Her loving fiancé Chris Workman joined us, and as Laura learned of my diagnosis, she offered to be tested at Texas Transplant Institute as a living non-related kidney donor.
Laura was a match and passed the rigorous review by the transplant committee.
Our surgery was scheduled for October 2015 with Dr. Adam Bingaman, M.D., who had interviewed me twice over a four-year period and concluded I was a perfect candidate to receive a living kidney transplant.
Within a month of our scheduled surgery, Laura’s father was tragically injured in a car accident. He was rushed to ICU, and within days passed away. Obviously, we cancelled our surgery. I assured Laura I would patiently wait for her until she felt released to proceed.
We rescheduled our transplant surgery for December 9, 2015, and I received a successful living donor kidney transplant from my rescue angel, Laura Suarez.
December 7, 2015 was my last hemodialysis treatment. Thanks to Laura, I have lived dialysis-free for almost nine months. Remember, I endured almost 13 years of hemodialysis thrice weekly.
Yes, that is wonderful. So now that you look back on this difficult experience, what did you learn from it?
Pray in faith to receive what you ask for.
I battled very hard with depression, low self-esteem, and a failure complex on hemodialysis 12 years, feeling as though I “lost” my identity of success, attention and earning high wages before my health collapsed.
I learned to “pray through” these temporal circumstances and stand in faith according to James 1:12.
My dear friend and business partner “G” presented this scripture etched in a wooden plaque on my hospital bed at the beginning of my eight-day hospital stay near death from end-stage renal disease.
Learn from all walks of life.
I began to see beauty and life in the up-and-coming bright minds in the field of medicine (who cared for me and others), while embracing the elderly, young infirm, and veterans who were missing limbs.
Many of my fellow dialysis patients in the clinic suffered dearly when amputations were required to save their lives from MRSA, gangrene, or diabetic neuropathy.
Pride goes before the fall.
I was a very arrogant, conceited facade of a man clothed in false security from my childhood dysfunction through my stunted, rebellious teens, twenties, and early thirties.
Humility comes before honor.
I heard a wise man instruct me, “humble yourself under the mighty hand of the Lord, and He will exalt you in “due season.”
I transformed from a professional Buddy Magazine Texas Tornado to an usher in a meek congregation on the corner of a lackluster landscape.
That I have a loving Father and family.
I believed through my journey that I could and would overcome because of the prayers and love bestowed upon me by my family and congregation.
They chose to emanate unconventional, unconditional love towards me, although I was incapable of reciprocating the same level of love as I wrestled with fear,stress and anxiety in my trial.
I am blessed with an outpouring of love and support.
To receive without striving is a beautiful lesson to learn. I received a living donor kidney transplant from my angel rescue Laura Suarez. I simply laid down on an operating table after being accepted by one of the USA’S top transplant programs and “received” a tremendous gift.
I feel no guilt or desire to outdo or outgive anyone. I am content receiving LIFE. Out of this reception, I give life and HOPE abundantly to others in time of need. I deeply understand the need.
What would you advise to other people going through physical problems like this?
Seek the best, most qualified, and proven medical team possible. Obtain an accurate diagnosis and pursue it. Engage politely with your medical team in all facets of your health care. Be responsible to follow the regimen according to the peace you discern and be willing to re-evaluate as needed.
Take heed not to jump from physician to physician prematurely. Seek wise counsel from friends, trusted sources, and clergy according to your needs. Finally, separate yourself from your diagnosis. The spirit, soul and physical body are constantly shifting. By speaking doubt and becoming “one” with a diagnosis or infirmity, you give the diagnosis power over your life.
Acknowledge it, do not live in denial, yet realize there is a healing mechanism hardwired into all of us to be discovered. Pay it forward by caring and sharing your overcoming experiences with mankind.
You said that you recently reconciled with your family. What was your family upbringing like?
I was born on Luke Air Force Base. Most all of my family were military.
My mother and father lived in strife, and my mother was subjected to abuse and alcoholism. I lived in a state of flux and rarely felt safe unless I was with my nanny and granddaddy.
And can you share with us why you ran away from home?
I wanted freedom to pursue music at an early age. My mother wanted her straight-A son in church and focused on school. I wanted my “money for nothing and my chicks for free,” as penned by Dire Straits.
My mother prayed fervently 18 years for me before our reconciliation began.
My father died when I was 23. He suffered a massive coronary during his sleep. There were no goodbyes. I was numb for years. I swam into the sea of alcohol to mask the pain of dysfunction. I was unmarried and vowed never to hit women based on my early traumas.
So how were you able to finally reconcile with your family?
It was only my inability to work or travel and earn a living that led me to call my mother and request prayer when I lay in bed, barely able to breathe or comprehend my physical symptoms and diagnosis of kidney disease. This resulted in my mother and sister picking me up from my townhouse and moving in with them where they could care for me.
Any advice for people who are having long-term family problems?
First, simply reach out and apologize for any “buried” issues. Tell them you know it hurts to be estranged from the love you once shared, and you are willing to work with them in mercy, grace, and love to reconcile with them.
How can they learn from your story that would help them reconcile with their family?
I think reading my autobiography, “Wannabee Rockstar Who Finally Found the Rock” will make the greatest impact. In addition, counseling with a trusted professional or minister can open the door to a deep and meaningful relationship if BOTH parties invest in each other.
Great, James, and what are you doing now?
I am currently writing, recording and performing with our original project Supernova Remnant. I am teaching a handful of drum students. I am building successful tribute bands, such as Saints and Sinners, Everybody Wants Some Van Halen/Sammy Hagar, Houses of the Holy Tribute to Led Zeppelin, and the newest project, Texas Modern-Day Cowboys (Tesla the band).
And where can people buy your book?
https://www.jmclester.com. Amazon & Kindle “updated” 2015 edition 442pps.
Clearly James credits his faith for making him well. His faith gave him comfort and helped him build up his strength so that he could go through this difficult time in his life. We often find that whether it be faith or some other form of inner strength that we can muster up, it’s always very important to believe that you will get better when you are ill and have something or someone to lean on.
As humans, we are naturally social creatures, so it’s difficult to do it alone. But having support from loved ones can really make a huge difference in recovery. Though James had fallen down seven times during this period, he did rise up again and again, and whether it was faith or something else, he has become stronger from this experience.
Please let us know what you think of our interview with James by commenting below.