Actor from ‘Martin’ shares story of battle with kidney disease ahead of Juneteenth event at Missions game

Reginald Ballard raising awareness about kidney disease and early screenings

SAN ANTONIO – Texas-born actor and comedian Reginald Ballard has lived with kidney disease for nearly his entire life.

“I remember my mother saying, ‘your feet look swollen,’ so she took me to the hospital. They told me I had kidney disease,” said Ballard.

Despite the early diagnosis, the actor best known for his role as “Bruh Man” in the 90s hit sitcom “Martin,” did not start to have serious health problems until he turned 54 years old.

“When I played football, I thought I couldn’t be hurt at all. I was in shape, never had a drink in my life,” said Ballard. “Then one day, my hands, my feet got swollen. Then the doctor said, ‘now you have to do dialysis.’ So, I did dialysis for eight months.”

Ballard received a transplant in part because of a kidney swap with his wife Edith, who gave up her kidney to someone else so Ballard could get one from another person.

“They gave her kidney to someone in California and I got my kidney from a person that was in North Carolina. Someone in Florida got another kidney because the person in North Carolina was friends with the person in Florida. My wife actually saved two people with her kidney,” said Ballard. “A lot of people don’t know you don’t really have to be a perfect match, even though we were. But you would do a swap and you get a kidney much faster.”

Ballard is now the spokesperson for the Texas Kidney Foundation and wants people to know it’s never too early to get screened. Kidney disease is called “the silent killer” because it’s hard to detect in its early stages without a screening.

The foundation reports 90% of Americans do not know they have chronic kidney disease and it’s more common in African-Americans and Hispanics.

“Black and Latino, our diets are terrible and that’s why we have the problem we have. It was very important for me because I’ve been through it and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” said Ballard.

Tiffany Jones-Smith, CEO for the Texas Kidney Foundation, said one in three people are at risk for kidney disease in Texas.

“In Bexar County, we have 800 new people go on to dialysis every year. This county, the 17th largest county in the United States, is a microcosm of the kidney disease population,” said Jones-Smith.

Jones-Smith said the foundation is testing 8,000 people this year for kidney disease.

“The reason being is that diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and obesity are the four leading causes of kidney disease. And diabetes is the leading cause here in San Antonio and in Bexar County,” said Jones-Smith.

On Saturday, the TKF and the San Antonio African-American Community Archive Museum or SAAACAM will host the third annual Juneteenth Night at the San Antonio Missions baseball game in an effort to raise funds and awareness about kidney disease and screenings.

Ballard will throw out the first pitch. He said he’s thankful to have a new outlook on life.

“You see your bloodline, your lifeline going through a machine and that was hard,” said Ballard. “I felt it’s very important to let people know my story and to let people know the importance of screenings.”

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.