Emboldened by overwhelming support, especially from the state’s tight-knit wrestling community, former Rutgers Prep star and Perth Amboy native Brett Epps remains convinced he is going to defeat a life-threatening kidney disease.
“Brett fully understands what he is up against in battling this disease,” said Epps’ father, Kurt. “He says, ‘I’m going to beat this, dad.’ “
Epps was diagnosed in early October with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare disease characterized by scarring in the part of the kidney that filters blood and which left his kidneys functioning at 13 percent.
As a way of heightening awareness about Epps’ condition, South Plainfield, ranked No. 1 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, and second-ranked Monroe will wear specially designed “Battling for Brett” T-shirts on Friday when they wrestle at 4 p.m. prior to a dual between Penn State and host Rutgers at the Rutgers Athletics Center.
In addition, the head and assistant coaches from both college programs – Scott Goodale and Donny Pritzlaff of Rutgers and Cael and Cody Sanderson of Penn State – are scheduled to pose for a group photo with representatives of both high school teams while wearing “Battling for Brett” T-shirts before the doubleheader.
The shirts feature an image of two wrestlers squaring off above the letters FSGS and the words “Fight Strong, Grow Strong.”
“We are trying to bring awareness to the situation because Brett was a wrestler and it’s a tight-knit community,” said South Plainfield coach Kevin McCann, who has known Kurt Epps, an assistant coach at Rutgers Prep, socially and professionally.
“The last few years, getting to know him, he’s somebody that’s close to me and I thought needed help. I just thought it was the right thing.”
A three-time Somerset County Tournament champion and third-place Prep National Tournament finisher who graduated from Rutgers Prep in 2006 as the school’s winningest wrestler, Epps needs a kidney transplant.
About 10 people, including Epps’ siblings, Kacy (2009) and Cody (2012), who also starred at Rutgers Prep, have thus far volunteered to be tested as living donors in the hope of being a match (all three Epps brothers were team captains in high school and combined for 255 career wins).
“I’m pursuing a living donation because a kidney from a living donor lasts about twice as long as one from a deceased donor, and the wait for a deceased donor could be five to 10 years,” Brett wrote on a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wrestlingforakidney) called “Wrestling My Toughest Opponent Ever” that his family created.
Epps, 27, who was always a physical specimen in high school and remains, all things considered, in good condition, has returned to work at Verizon in North Carolina and is doing well. By adhering to a strict renal diet, Epps has managed to avoid dialysis treatment for the time being.
“Doctors said had he not been in the shape he had been he would have been on dialysis a month and a half ago,” Kurt Epps said.
Kurt Epps said those interested in being a living donor for his son should call 704-355-3062, ask to speak with Natalie and request a living donor information packet.
The Epps family has also created a site for donations that has already raised more than $13,000 to help defray the medical expenses for Brett, who does not have health insurance: http://www.gofundme.com/h94pl4
Money from the sale of T-shirts, such as those South Plainfield and Monroe will be wearing Friday night, will also benefit Epps.
“The fact that those two schools are supporting us means a tremendous amount to us in terms of bolstering our spirit,” Kurt Epps said, noting other GMC wrestling teams including Sayreville, Old Bridge and New Brunswick will or have worn “Battling for Brett” T-shirts.
More conference members and other schools across the state are expected to follow suit.
“I think it just goes to show what I’ve said always about the wrestling community being a very tight-knit one that rallies around one of its own in times of need,” Kurt Epps said.
Those interested in receiving a T-shirt can do so through a donation of $30 and by contacting Kurt Epps via email email@example.com.
Kurt Epps said his family has established a noninterest-bearing bank account for Brett to help offset his medical expenses as an alternative to setting up an actual fund or foundation, which he said is a “daunting, time-consuming task that is full of governmental hurdles.”
He said those who are moved to donate must make checks payable to “Brett Epps” and write “Gift” or “Gift for Brett” in the memo line to minimize the tax liability for Brett.
The donations, which are not tax-deductible, should be mailed to the Epps residence, 163 Water St., Perth Amboy, NJ 08861.