When KJ Henry learned that he could pick a cause close to his heart for the NFL's annual "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative, the rookie barely didn't need to put much thought into the choice.
"Easy decision … Help Hope Live chose me. It's the cause that helped my family with our whole journey as far as trying to find a kidney for my dad," Henry explained. "Just being able to partner with us and helping us and being there for us, that'll be a cause I'm linked with for the rest of my life."
Guided by the belief that a medical crisis shouldn't become a financial crisis, Help Hope Live helps patients with fundraising for a wide range of expenses, including out-of-pocket-costs for medical treatment, home health care, medical equipment and more. The organization, in Henry's words, played one of "the biggest roles" in saving the life of his father, Keith Henry, when he learned he needed a kidney transplant.
The diagnosis that would rock the Henry family's world came in the fall of 2021. After a slow decline in Keith's kidney function over a number of years, his doctor determined during an October checkup that the father of three would need a kidney transplant. Trying to minimize distractions for their son during football, Keith and Nicole Henry opted to tell KJ after his junior season.
"He took it well, but it put a moment on his face that I've never seen before," Keith said in an episode of Commanders Log this past summer.
Not long after shock and sadness sunk in sprung a desire in KJ to find a way to help his dad. He knew right away that using his platform as a college athlete, particularly with the new NIL rules, could be a gamechanger.
"Being a kid who has worked through this game and wanted to build his platform, it's like, 'What is the point of it if you can't use it for the right reasons?' and this was definitely one of those reasons," he said. "Really lucky with the backing of my community, my Clemson community, and the new rule change with NIL, those two things kind of allowed me help raise funds and raise awareness for him during that process."
KJ took to social media to get the word out about his family's plight. He launched a fundraiser to provide financial support for the transplant and the ensuing medical expenses and linked up with several of his teammates to host an autograph signing. Every step of the way, Help Hope Live was there to assist with setting up the fundraiser, organizing events, spreading awareness and more.
"They were really just hand in hand by our side the entire, just with anything we might need during a trying time," Henry said. "It just really helped me to see the importance and have that appreciation for that organization."
All the efforts spearheaded by KJ raised more than $100,000. On July 14, 2022, Keith underwent a successful kidney transplant thanks to a donation from his wife's cousin, Karen Eaton. While there is a lot about the journey that can be considered finished, KJ's support for Help Hope Live continues on. He is still a major advocate for the organization and can't wait to shine light on Help Hope Live when he steps out on the field this Sunday.
"I'm honored to represent them," he said. "They continue to do great work and make me proud to be a part of what they're doing so it's my job to give that back and make sure I'm making them proud as well."
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