Chef Michael Bowling expects he’ll have a new kidney by the end of the year. He knows the process, having previously undergone surgery for a kidney and pancreas transplant.
This time is different. This time, the donor is his best friend.
Zoom out: Bowling owns Hot Box: Next Level Kitchen, and he’s part of a group of chefs and restaurateurs who’ve helped turn Charlotte into a city known for Black culinary prowess. He co-founded Soul Food Sessions, in 2017 as a way to center Black chefs.
- Of note: This weekend, Charlotte will host the first Bay Haven Food and Wine Festival, celebrating Black foodways. Bowling isn’t part of the event.
But while Bowling’s grown as a professional, he’s also battled kidney disease, a struggle he’s only recently started to open up about.
Backstory: Bowling was diagnosed with diabetes at 15 years old, and has since been cured following a pancreas transplant.
- He received his first kidney transplant, along with the pancreas transplant, in 2007, two years after kidney failure.
- Eight years later, in 2015, the donor kidney failed.
He’s spent the past six years going through several types of dialysis, often leaving his successful restaurant in the evenings to undergo hours of self-guided treatment.
When time came to get a transplant again, the new kidney would come from someone who wasn’t always in his inner circle.
Bowling and Angel Miguel Bonilla met in middle school when Bowling moved to Virginia, and their relationship did not start off well.
- “Some little girl came to me and told me he didn’t like Black people,” Bowling told me. “I approached him about this.”
- Their seventh grade science teacher, Tom Fitzpatrick, who has been a lifelong mentor and friend, made them work it out.
- “We found out we were more friends than we were enemies, and we’ve been attached at the hip ever since,” Bowling said.
Bonilla, who still lives in Roanoke, Virginia, teaches middle school science and runs marathons.
- They are planning for transplant surgery over winter break to avoid disrupting Bonilla’s school schedule.
- “He does not want to miss time with his students, if at all possible,” Bowling said.
What’s next: Bowling plans to work up until surgery, which comes with major medical expenses and time away from work to recover. His friends are helping him raise money:
Bowling Aid, organized by chef Naomi Knox, is a one-night event to help offset Bowling’s expenses.
Details: Nov. 8 at 5pm at Free Range Brewing
- Tickets are $85
- 15 chefs will contribute to the classic culinary throw down
- Extra funds will help form TRANSPLANT Aid, a nonprofit providing assistance to other families going through the transplant process.
The big picture: Around 93,000 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
- Four years is the average wait-time for a kidney in the United States, sometimes longer.
- 5% kidney patients die annually waiting for a kidney.
- Kidneys filter blood through the body every 30 minutes, per the CDC.
- A kidney transplant is often in response to failure, a result of chronic kidney disease (CKD), often seen in people with diabetes. Dialysis prior to a transplant becomes a means of survival for CKD patients.
The bottom line: Living with kidney disease is taxing and frightening, physically and mentally.
“I went into a deep depression,” Bowling said of the first time his kidney failed in the 2000s.
- He sold his restaurant in Virginia and hid out in his home. His friends pulled him out of the dark time.
Things had to be different this time, he thought, and they have been, with the help of a lot of friends.
“This time around, when everything started going south, I decided I wasn’t going to stop,” Bowling said.
Clarification: This story was updated to clarify Bowling isn’t affiliated with Bay Haven Food and Wine festival.