DECATUR — Tommy Butts was a retired Decatur police officer who loved playing bass guitar in country music bands, loved life, and had planned to use one to celebrate the continuation of the other.
Tragically for Butts, time ran out as he waited for a matching donor and the transplant that would have saved him from the kidney disease that claimed his life Sept. 17, 2019, at the age of 58.
But the music event he had dreamed of as a way to say "thank you" if that donor had been found went ahead anyway on Sunday at the Decatur Civic Center. This time, however, the focus was on calling attention to the desperate need for more kidney donors and to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, which helps patients battling kidney disease.
His widow, Sarah, organized Sunday’s event — calling it “Team Tommy’s Donor Roundup" — and said the Tommy Team consisted of his family and friends.
Getting to the point of being able to stage Sunday’s show, which featured the music of five live bands, had involved a long and difficult path as the date was twice put off due to the sudden arrival of a new disease, COVID-19.
Sarah Butts, married to her husband for 30 years, isn’t easily put off, however.
“The idea of this event actually started with him,” said Butts, 50. “He just loved country music and he would have loved this. So I took the reins and I hope I am doing him proud.”
The music went on throughout Sunday afternoon and took a novel approach to fundraising. Each band — Feudin Hillbillys, Wreckless Whiskey, NCR, Brushville and the NATU Band — played for an hour in the Civic Center arena.
Tips jars were left out and spectators, who paid $25 to get in, showed their monetary appreciation for each group.
“Whichever band raises the most money in one hour gets to be the opening act for a big band appearing at the Devon Lakeshore Amphitheater,” said Butts.
It was a nice incentive to dangle in front of any hungry country or rock band, but some musicians had personal reasons of their own for wanting to use their art to highlight a worthy cause.
Natu Visinia is the lead guitarist of his namesake Natu Band and recalled how kidney disease claimed the life of his 61-year-old mother, Tiva Visinia, as she waited in vain for the right kidney donor.
“Same situation as Tommy,” said the 35-year-old musician who has family in Clinton but lives in Tennessee today. “And a lot of people are like that: They wait for years and years and just run out of time. So being here today and helping is something near and dear to my heart.”
Statistics from the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois show that 3,500 people in the state are waiting for a kidney donation but, in 2018, there were only 273 living kidney donors in the Land of Lincoln. Some 12 people die a day waiting for their chance at a new lease on life.
“I don’t think a lot of people even realize how hard it is to get a kidney donation,” said Allison McCue, Tommy Butts’ sister-in-law who was helping out on Sunday. “We need to change that.”
Find out more by going to www.nkfi.org.