One of New London's own, Na'Quon Sutton, in need of a kidney transplant

New London — Na’Quon Sutton celebrated his 21st birthday recently, except that he couldn’t celebrate it with the revelry of most new 21-year-olds. Not when his kidneys operate at 7 percent capacity.

This is his story.

It begins here: He needs our help.

And maybe — maybe — this is one of those stories that crosses every boundary, one of those stories that unites us. Because if we can’t agree that a polite, respectful 21-year-old kid who found his way back from hell deserves his swing at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness … what’s left?

Sutton suffers from Stage 5 renal failure and needs a kidney transplant, the residual effect of a childhood urinary tract infection that went untreated for too long. He said his blood type, O+, has slowed the process. Sutton, who is on a transplant list and whose insurance will pay for the operation, still needs to expand his potential donor list and raise some money for ancillary medical expenses, including what would be repeated trips to Yale New Haven Hospital.

How did Sutton, who graduated from New London High in 2014, get here? The story begins outside Atlanta, where Sutton, 7 at the time, was left to care for his 5-year-old sister, Ni-tasia. Their now estranged mother wasn’t always around.

“The reason my kidney failure started back when I was younger is that my real mom left,” Sutton was saying recently at Muddy Waters, where he had to read labels carefully to see what he could and couldn’t eat and drink.

“There was maybe a year or two I had to fend for me and my sister. I had to make things work. There were times when we were locked out of the house. I would hold my bowels and urine so I could protect my sister. She was five and I couldn’t leave her alone. I thought if I went into the woods (to urinate) that someone would take her. I was seven. I had no idea. That was going on for about a year, year and a half.”

Sutton and his sister were trying to make their way back to New London to live with Akela Sydnor, Sutton’s godmother, with whom Sutton lives today.

“I couldn’t get to Kiki’s (Sydnor’s nickname) because I was young and didn’t have a phone. There were days we’d be outside in thunderstorms,” Sutton said. “We’d cuddle up and try to make it work.”

Eventually, though, repeatedly holding in his urine gave Sutton a urinary tract infection.

“He was at the nurse’s office at school one day and the nurse told him he needed to see a doctor,” Sydnor said. “He remembers his mother coming and taking him home and never going to the doctor. UTIs are not normal for children. Had he gone to the doctor and been treated, he wouldn’t have this issue today. It would have been corrected.”

Sutton, meanwhile, knew he had a grandmother in North Carolina. When he learned how to use a phone, he tried to call her. North Carolina has a 919 area code. He dialed 911 by mistake. The police came to the house on a night Sutton and his sister were alone.

Eventually, the children found their grandmother in Goldsboro, N.C., attending school there for a while. He reconnected with Sydnor “after a couple of years.”

“There were times my mom would try to come and take us back, but we didn’t want to go,” Sutton said. “I know my real dad. He’s not around either.”

Sutton never truly identified his health issues. But he knew something was amiss. Finally, at 19, he was rushed to the emergency room with chest pain.

“They told me it was kidney failure,” he said. “My bladder was the size of a basketball because of undrained urine.”

Sutton was working at Red 36 in Mystic. He cannot any longer because of health issues.

“Every day, I have a problem thinking. It’s hard to me to focus,” Sutton said. “When I’m alone and thinking about it, it’s tough.”

Sydnor, who works three jobs, said the condition isn’t life-threatening, provided Sutton stays on his medication, sees doctors and attends dialysis. But his quality of life essentially depends on the transplant.

Enter Sutton’s friends. Chicago Bulls guard (and New London High grad) Kris Dunn and Connecticut College grad Doug Henton, a New London native, have started a gofundme page for Sutton, whose story was the centerpiece of last week’s “Kris Dunn Day” in the city. Henton, meanwhile, knows all about the power of people. When he was unable to pay the remaining tuition a few years ago at Conn, the community rallied. Henton graduated in May.

Sutton understands what he’s asking for. He also wants to give back. His experiences have turned him into a foodie, if nothing else.

“I want to write my own cookbook. A renal diet cookbook,” he said. “A no-salt, no-potassium diet. I’ve had to cut a lot of things out. If I want spaghetti, it’s buttered noodles. I make good buttered noodles. I can’t risk kidney function going any lower. Maybe I’ll call it ‘Ways Around Salt.’”

Sydnor said, “Mrs. Dash has been our friend. I think on each page of the cookbook, Na’Quon would add a blurb to about his journey. It’s been a process.”

Here is where we become part of it. The Yale New Haven Hospital transplant center's referral line is (866) 925-3897. A brief phone interview determines whether you are a candidate. And Sutton’s insurance pays for it. Otherwise, the link for the gofundme page is https://www.gofundme.com/naequonsuttonfightskidneyfailure

“Everyone is doing what they can for me,” Sutton said, “and I appreciate it very much. I want to give back and help. I know Kiki’s son is in college now. I’ve taken a lot of her time away from him. I just want to get better so I can help.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

Editor's Note: This version removes a reference to O+ as a rare blood type. O+ is the most common blood type.

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