Monday, February 21, 2011
Jamie Redford's terrible stomachaches as a teenager were written off by some as symptoms of "the stressed-out kid of a movie star."
Redford, the son of actor and director Robert Redford, went for nearly three years without being correctly diagnosed as having ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disorder. Then at age 25, just as he was starting his graduate studies in literature at Northwestern University, he learned his liver was failing.
Today, at 48, Redford, who lives in Marin and has undergone two liver transplants, is a leading advocate for families of organ donors and donor recipients. On March 11, Redford will host Share the Beat in San Francisco, an annual event that he founded to raise awareness of organ donation.
"More than 100,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a transplant," Redford said, sitting in his film office in San Rafael. "Each day, 19 people die waiting for transplants that don't happen because of the shortage of donated organs."
Redford, who shares his father's blue eyes, freckled skin and manner of speaking, said, "I have had a taste of wondering whether I would make it. As you wait, you get into this near catatonic state. My whole focus now is to honor donor families who have given the gift of life."
The waiting list of people needing transplants, as of the second week of February, numbered 110,348 and included 1,700 children, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a private, nonprofit organization that manages the nation's organ transplant system in contract with the federal government.
"The biggest miracle is that people do this at all," Redford said of organ donation. "There are great misconceptions about organ donation, going all the way back to Frankenstein. It's eerie. People don't want to talk about it for various reasons."
He said that although a majority of Americans say they support the concept of organ donation, the rate drops to around 38 percent when aggrieved people in hospital settings are faced with the question of whether they will give consent to have organs harvested from a brain-dead loved one.
"It's really important to talk about this before that happens," said Redford, who knows that his second liver - the first failed after four months - came from a 31-year-old Denver man who had died from acute asthma. The transplant took place on July 7, 1993. Redford has met the man's mother and learned the man was soon to be married.
Thank you not enough
"I just held her," Redford said of the meeting with the mom. "You can't say thank you. I have stayed in touch with her, and send her pictures of my daughter as she's grown up."
Shortly after recovering from the second transplant, Redford felt he needed to give back. He turned to what was natural, and what was in his blood - filmmaking.
"I always loved stories and writing," Redford said. "I spent a lot of hours as a child in screening and edit rooms. We would spend our summers in Utah, and there was no reception. I would consume screenplays like candy. When I started writing in screenplay form, I knew it was what I should be doing."
After producing a coming-of-age drama called "Spin," Redford produced a feature-length documentary, "The Kindness of Strangers." The film offers an intimate look into the lives of organ donors and recipients.
Redford said he never shied away from filmmaking because of his famous father, who has won two Oscars and is founder of the Sundance Film Festival.
"People tell me it must be weird growing up in the shadow of such an accomplished actor and filmmaker," Redford said, sitting under a Sundance poster featuring Willie Nelson. "I never agonized over that. It was more of a problem others imagined."
Counting his blessings
These days, Redford is just counting his blessings. His wife, Kyle Redford, is a fifth-grade teacher, and the two have a son and daughter, ages 19 and 15. Redford moonlights in a rock band called Olive and the Dirty Martinis, which performs in nightclubs around Marin. And he is on the board of the Redford Center, which is based in Sundance, Utah, and focuses on environmental issues, social activism and artistic expression. Redford helps produce films for the center, and is working on a short documentary about the looming water crisis in the Colorado River basin.
He feels great, he says, and is out whenever he can mountain biking and surfing. He has to have his blood tested routinely, and will take medication twice a day for the rest of his life.
Flashing the genetically blessed Redford smile, he said, "I can't complain about the medication. It's a reminder on a daily basis of the gift that I have been given."
Share the Beat: The fundraiser, which takes place in a different city each year, will be March 11 at the Regency Center in San Francisco. The event, hosted by Jamie Redford and the American Society of Transplantation, will benefit organ donation awareness and transplantation research. For more information, go to sharethebeat.org.