When a community comes together to help one of its own, it also helps the community.
This is especially true when the person needing aid is an outstanding citizen who serves his community and is known for going above and beyond the call of duty. Bradley County Deputy Sheriff Brian McCamis is one such individual.
With his reputation for fairness, down-home friendliness and being firm but reasonable, McCamis has earned the respect and admiration of everyone in his department as well as those who know him personally and those in his custody as a Bradley County Judicial Services officer.
Now, it is officer McCamis who is in need of his community.
McCamis, 44, was born with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, or VHL, a genetic disorder characterized by the formation of tumors that strikes 1 in 36,000 individuals. The tumors grow in different parts of the body — the brain, spinal cord, retina, pancreas and kidneys. They can be cancerous or noncancerous. Unfortunately for McCamis and other members of his family, his tumors have been cancerous.
“It killed my dad at 55 years old,” McCamis said. “It killed his mother and his brother. My sister had it when she was 15. She had three brain tumors and now she doesn’t have any kidneys.”
The condition already cost McCamis vision in one eye, in 1991. Then a kidney had to be removed in 1995. In fall 2013, he lost his second kidney due to this rare form of hereditary cancer. Having both his kidneys removed has made McAmis temporarily cancer-free. But he will not be eligible for a kidney transplant until he has been cancer-free for at least two years. Until then he must have four-hour dialysis treatment three times a week, which costs around $72,000 per year.
An account has been made for Brian McCamis at the Bank of Cleveland for anyone who wishes to donate to help the single father of three and 16-year veteran of law enforcement cover his mounting bills and out-of-pocket expenses. His situation is made worse thanks to a surprising bureaucratic mixup. According to McCamis, although he has short-term disability with the Sheriff’s Office, the disabled officer has only drawn one disability check — months ago — due to confusion between the hospital and insurance company.
“I’ve only drawn one check and that was before Christmas,” McCamis said. “Here I am sitting here in the middle of February and I’ve only drawn one check and it was just $675. I am still working to get it fixed. The hospital says it’s the insurance. The insurance says it’s the hospital. I said, ‘I don’t care if it’s the hospital or the insurance. The main things is that we need to get it fixed. I told them, ‘I’ve paid for this over the years and now it’s time to pay me back. Getting the money — it’s always a fight. I don’t want to say anything bad about anybody, but I need this money.”
Even if he gets what he is due, the funds will not meet his current financial needs, according to McCamis, who is seeing the assistance offered by people in his community in a totally different light.
McCamis praised the people of Cleveland who came and replaced his old garage door with a new one, cleaned out his chimney and put in a new fireplace damper door to help with the cold during the winter.
“They won’t let me pay them a dime,” he said. “They did it all for free. I’m truly blessed. I might be minus my kidneys but it opened my eyes as to how many good people there are in Bradley County.”
McCamis told of one local supporter who held a bake sale at the Courthouse on his behalf. His electric bill was $617.
“I ’bout fell over trying to figure out how I [was] going to come up with this money,” he said.
“She raised money and didn’t tell me anything about it. I went to visit at the Courthouse and they were asking me how I was doing. I said, ‘The only thing I’m worried about is how I’m going to pay my electric bill. It’s $617. I don’t have a clue where I’m getting that money.’ They said, ‘Joan raised you a bunch of money. Didn’t she tell you?’ I said, ‘She didn’t tell me anything.’”
She had taken the money to Volunteer Electric, paid off his existing bill and left him with a $258 credit toward his next bill.
“She had raised almost $900 off her bake sale, then took the money and covered my bill at Volunteer Electric. How did she even know where my electric bill was at?”
Another friend, a local judge, will insist on putting a few hundred dollars in his hand whenever they meet, and reassures McCamis that he loves him like a brother.
“There ain’t many people who would do that,” McCamis said, gratefully. “That’s the way God has worked for me since November. Every time I think I’m in a hole I can’t get out of, He shows me a light and walks me through it.”
When asked how he is adjusting to life without a kidney, McCamis admits, “I have my good days and my bad. I get dehydrated easy because without any kidneys there’s only so much liquids you can drink or you can actually drown yourself. It’s hard. I really have to be careful.”
In the meantime, his bills are mounting at a rate that surpasses his ability to pay. His short-term disability for six months (yet to be received) ends in three months, then all his BCSO benefits will be exhausted. The POST-certified officer sees little options for him and his family. Although he qualifies for total disability and could start drawing benefits in June, McCamis said his plan is to return to work in March and do the best he can, because the amount is less than he can live on.
“The disability that I would be drawing is not enough to make my house payment,” he explained. “I can’t wait to get a kidney. Giving a kidney is a lot harder than receiving one. I have several friends who say they want to be tested when the time comes to see if we are a match, including my ex-wife, Linnea. She told me she wants to give me a kidney if we’re a match. It would mean the world to me to get a match. There’s a lot of good people in this community. Working in the law enforcement field you can become jaded. But there are a lot of good people in the community who stepped forward and helped me.”
While several individuals in the community have raised funds, provided some financial assistance and helped cover some of his out-of-pocket expenses and utility bills, more help is needed.
McCamis has been one of those law enforcement officers who never forgot the value of treating people with dignity and respect, even if they were behind bars. He have been praised by the community and his peers for his contribution to the judicial system and its security. He said he welcomes the prayers of everyone concerned.
If any agency, group or individual would like to provide any financial assistance, visit the Bank of Cleveland and ask to make a deposit in the name of Brian McCamis, or contact Jeff Yarber at 716-5938. A donation can also be made through Larry Hill at Larry Hill Ford, or you can contribute online at http://www.gofundme.com/64gkj4.
McCamis has three children, Blake, 22, Jenna, 21, and Logan, 17.