‘Chorus of Hope’

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2013

SALISBURY — Since going through two-and-a-half years of dialysis and receiving a transplanted kidney in 2008, Robbie Combs has noticed something.
No matter whom he meets, it seems the person has a friend, family member or his or her own experience dealing with kidney disease.
Statistics bear him out. The National Kidney Foundation says 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease — and most don’t know it.
More than 380,000 people depend on dialysis to survive. And 90,000-plus people are on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
So it thrilled Combs, a Lincolnton resident, when fellow singers with the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society agreed to participate in the May 18 Kidney Walk to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation.
Members of the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society usually depend on their voices, not their feet.
But they will use both in the annual 2.3-mile walk taking place at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C.
Wearing purple T-shirts bearing their team name, “Chorus of Hope,” the Choral Society participants also will be providing singers to perform inspirational songs near the walk’s finish line.
Founded in 1910, the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society is the longest running community choral group in North Carolina.
President Mollie Ruf says the organization’s 103-year legacy is built on giving back to the community.
“We don’t ever want to let that die,” she says.
Although the group’s main focus is excellence in choral music, it also remains determined, Ruf says, “to be a positive force in as many ways as possible to all people in and around our community.”
Besides performing each year at scheduled concerts, the Choral Society sings at nursing homes and assisted living centers. This will be the first time it participates in the Kidney Walk.
Combs, who sings bass/baritone, has walked on other teams for the past four years and has served on the event’s planning committee.
“Really, he was our inspiration,” Ruf says.
The Chorus of Hope team members already have reached their goal of raising $1,000 for the foundation. Overall, the Kidney Walk has a goal of raising $150,000 through the participation of teams throughout the Charlotte region.
Kidney disease also has hit Ruf close to home over the past decade.
Her father deals with a chronic kidney disorder called Secondary Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, which drastically changed his lifestyle.
He is not depending on dialysis yet, but his creatinine levels are constantly monitored. Every six months, he travels to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., for checkups related to his kidney disorder.
Combs’ kidney problems surfaced in January 2006, when he was 38. He became sick and thought for a week that he was dealing with the flu.
But blood work showed his creatinine at dangerously high levels. Combs will never forget the 7 a.m. telephone call he received from his doctor one Saturday, telling him to get to the hospital in Hickory.
They told him he just about didn’t make it in time, he recalls.
Not long after a week’s stay in the Hickory hospital, Combs started on dialysis every other day, for four to five hours a session.
After six months, doctors told Combs, who had only one kidney, that he was in “end stage renal failure.” To get better and live a normal life, he would need a kidney transplant.
Combs went on the active waiting list in October 2006. He says “a series of God moments” led him to a top kidney doctor in Charlotte and eventually connected him to his donor after two years on the waiting list.
He had a special contact at Carolinas Medical Center’s transplant center. Always impatient, Combs was constantly calling Brenda Thrasher at the center and asking, “Any news yet?”
In August 2008, Combs happened to see Thrasher at a church service they were attending, and she mentioned something was in the works in finding a donor for him.
When Combs called on his next regular check-in, Thrasher revealed she was in the process of being tested as a possible donor for him.
The transplant teams met Sept. 30 and approved Thrasher’s donation of a kidney to Combs. She was as close to a sibling match as she could have been, Combs added.
The transplant occurred Oct. 22, 2008.
“As I was waiting to be rolled into surgery, Brenda came into the room,” Combs says. “She was already dressed to go in before me. She took my hand, and we prayed together.”
The transplant was successful for both Combs and Thrasher, and this year Combs will be coming up on his five-year anniversary with the kidney.
“She’s a special lady,” he says.
Combs joined the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society while he was managing the Cokesbury Bookstore at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury.
During the spring and summer, the Choral Society has an average of at least 30 singers for its performances and practices. The numbers swell over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday to more than 40.
There are no auditions, and the Choral Society is open to men and women 16 and older.
Practices are from 7-9 p.m. every Tuesday at Coburn United Methodist Church in Salisbury. The director is Matt Newton.
“Our group is really like an extended family,” says Ruf, a transplant from Kansas City, Mo., who found the choral society a great way to meet people. It also served another purpose.
“I need to have an outlet for music,” she says.
The Choral Society’s August Jazz Concert will be held Aug. 10 at the Looking Glass Artist Collective’s Black Box Theater. Its Christmas Concert will be Dec. 7 at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
The concerts are free, but donations are accepted to keep the Choral Society going.
About eight or nine Choral Society members will be walking for the Chorus of Hope team May 18, not counting the singers who will be in attendance.

For more information, or if you’re interested in singing for the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society, email Mollie Ruf at mollieruf@yahoo.com or post a message to the Choral Society’s Facebook page. For more information on the Kidney Walk, go to KidneyWalk.org. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.