Daisy and Duke, two white Bichons, scurry around the apartment, jumping on chairs and chasing toys.
Their owner, Charles “Charlie” Pringle, warns them to settle down, but even his sternest voice doesn’t seem to calm the pups – an excitable brother and sister he adopted from a shelter. Charlie, 60, can’t help but smile.
The trio lives in a handsome apartment in a senior complex in De Soto, Mo. The tall ceilings, modern appliances and antique décor suggest a luxurious lifestyle.
But in reality, most of Charlie’s most prized possessions were acquired earlier in his life, back when things were easier.
Charlie was born in Morgantown, W.V. His father worked in the coal mines there, but moved the family to Warren, Ohio, when Charlie was just two years old.
The kidney problems meant that Charlie wasn’t as big or as strong as the other boys his age. Growing up, he was frequently bullied by the other children.
At age 11, Charlie’s mother took him to a different doctor who announced that the boy would only live two more years. Seeking help, his parents sent him to the Cleveland Clinic. There, they determined that Charlie suffered from a hereditary kidney disease called Alport Syndrome.
Despite his illness, Charlie managed to graduate from high school and enroll at Kent State University, where he studied fine art.
Charlie moved to St. Louis, intending to finish his degree at St. Louis University. He first took a job as an assistant warehouse manager at Target, and later worked at Creve Coeur Camera.
In the early 1980s, Charlie was working at a small electronics and computer accessories company, when he got sick once more. He was forced to begin dialysis at Barnes Hospital.
“I would work all day and go on dialysis,” Charlie says. “I wouldn’t get out until 1 a.m. after dialysis.”
This routine went on for a year and a half before a kidney became available in 1989. He underwent the kidney transplant, receiving the kidney from a donor who also provided organs to four other patients.
Despite the odds, Charlie has been living with his kidney for 23 years. “Every day I get up and I thank God for being alive,” Charlie says.
Just a month after the transplant, Charlie was back at work. Mounting medical bills meant an ongoing fight with his insurance company.
Ultimately, he was fired because the small company could not afford to insure him.
Charlie sent out 285 resumes for 200 different jobs, but each time he came in for an interview, he had to fill out his health history – a disclosure that often meant he was passed over.
“I was out of work for almost a year,” Charlie says. “I had to use charge cards to survive.”
Even when he got a new job as a sales consultant at an appliance parts center, the looming debt was overwhelming.
During his time at the parts center, Charlie worked with some of the company’s biggest clients. For 14 years, he devoted his life to the company until one day, he was abruptly let go because of his pre-existing health condition.
The sudden job loss sent Charlie into a tailspin of despair. Physical and emotional problems were overwhelming.
In 2001, his doctor demanded that Charlie stop trying to find a job. He filed for disability, but still hoped to find work.
His 401K and savings were depleted, and it took years for his disability payments to come through.
Charlie eventually moved to a place in the country in De Soto. There, while he struggled to pay medical bills with little income, he was able to rely on the De Soto Food Pantry for food assistance. He insisted on volunteering at the pantry to earn his keep.
“I don’t want to just come in and get it,” Charlie says. “I take care of the USDA when it comes in.”
When the bills became too much and he began to fall due to neuropathy in his legs, Charlie moved to the senior apartments in De Soto.
“I’m able to afford the rent and the utilities,” Charlie says.
He continues to spend $1,300 a month on medications for his kidney disease, and thousands more on trips to the doctors in St. Louis, lab work and tests. Thankfully, he does receive some help from the Missouri Kidney Foundation.
“With the government it is really scary to not know of what changes might occur,” Charlie says. “With the help and kindness of the Disability Resource Association (DRA) they try to make your life not so bad.”
Charlie has cut everything extra from his life – no magazines, no eating out, no using gas to visit friends. He receives $16 in food stamps a month, and for most of his other food, relies on the De Soto Food Pantry.
He gets most of his clothes from thrift stores and often shares food with his neighbors at the senior apartments to make it stretch.
Like most of the people who get food at the pantry, Charlie is immensely grateful.
“It’s made me realize that there are a lot of people out there who are in need,” Charlie says.