Music is a challenge and joy for Pat Spurgeon
Music is a challenge and joy for Pat Spurgeon

A new documentary about a man's search for a living kidney donor combines medical drama and rock music.

Pat Spurgeon is the drummer with the rock band Rogue Wave. He was born with only one kidney, which started to lose function while he was a teenager. He received a kidney transplant and went on with his life. But, in 2004, as Rogue Wave prepared for a U.S. concert tour, that kidney began to fail. Instead of leaving the band, Spurgeon hit the road with his drums, his dialysis machine and a video camera.

"Basically, I just wanted to make a film that showed people how this particular type of dialysis allows you to be mobile and kind of carry on with your life as if you didn't have a problem other than having to do dialysis every day," he says. "So I really wanted to show that in the film."

The film was made as a labor of love

Spurgeon took his idea to his friend Jim Granato, an independent filmmaker and videographer.

Granato explains that the documentary, "follows two years on the road with Rouge Wave. The story was happening all over the country. This is the first film of its kind in a way to chronicle an individual's [being on] dialysis in spite of the odds of being on tour with a band, and also his quest for a donor, but  also going to that process of actually receiving a kidney."

Spurgeon and his band mates helped filming on the
Spurgeon and his band mates helped filming on the road

The documentary is called D Tour – the D is for dialysis – and Granato says making it turned out to be a collective labor of love.

"Frankly, there was no money," he explains. "There was no funding whatsoever for this film. I simply gave Pat a camera to document his life. It was very new to Pat, but he was able to shoot things as he saw it from the road and he was able to shoot himself like in the scenes where he shoots himself in the mirror a couple of days before going to a big operation. That basically led to his band mates having cameras and helping filming things on the road. Then once I was able to receive some donations myself, through friends and family, I was able to go and do a little bit of traveling myself and film them on the road."

Going on tour and dialysis

Spurgeon says he wanted to share with viewers the challenges of touring while being on dialysis.

"I had dietary restrictions, which were tough to meet especially being on the road and eating food that's been prepared at restaurants," he says. "Because my restrictions were low sodium, low potassium, low protein, it really eliminates a quite bit of food options. And also when I was on dialysis, I was prone to retaining fluids in my body. My legs and my feet would swell up and would cause high blood pressure," Spurgeon recalls.

Finding music helpful and "cheaper than therapy"

But music gave him the will to survive.

"It was pretty much the only thing that kept me going through the whole dialysis process," he says. "There is one song of ours in particular called 'Cheaper than Therapy.' The song pertains to my situation. The theme of the song is how music is sort of therapy for people going through certain things.

Kidney transplant surgery is documented

Spurgeon received a new kidney in 2006. The surgery, which was also documented in D Tour, changed his life.

"D Tour" draws attention to the plight of kidney p
"D Tour" draws attention to the plight of kidney patients, and the need for donors

"I got the kidney actually a lot earlier than expected," he says. "The donor was a young man who passed away here in California. My general health between dialysis and now, having my new kidney, is like night and day. I feel much better now with the transplanted kidney. The only thing I have to do now is take medication twice daily for the rest of my life. What it does is it lowers my immune system so I don't reject this kidney," he says.

Whether on tour, making D Tour or promoting the documentary, Spurgeon says his goal has always been to draw people's attention to what kidney patients go through, and what others can do to help.

Beating the drum for organ donors

"We've been screening this film, going around with it to certain film festivals," he says. "It seems like after every film festival, when we do Q&A- question and answer sessions- people are very surprised by the film, very moved. And a lot of times, they come up and say, 'I'm going to make sure that my license says that I'm a donor,' or that 'I'm going to sign up to become an organ donor right away.' The film really moves a lot of people. It's a kind of an educational tool, in a way."

Spurgeon continues his busy schedule with Rogue Wave. The band just finished recording its fourth CD and is getting ready for another tour. He says he'll continue to find time to spread awareness about the life-changing gift of organ donation.