By Mike Kinosian
COOKEVILLE, Ten. — Positive outcomes haven’t exactly been the norm for several radio talk show hosts who’ve been hospitalized in the COVID-era.
Spoiler Alert: Don’t read any further unless you want to see how a popular Cookeville, Tennessee personality fashioned a warm & fuzzy post-hospital story and is now enjoying a new lease on life.
On its own, this is the type of feel-good scenario all of us can applaud; the element further enhancing it regards the part the medium itself played.
Those adhering to the English proverb, “Good things come to those who wait,” will undoubtedly nod in approval for what appears below.
Disastrous mix: stress, soda, sweets
Nearly eight years ago (May 2014), Dr. Barbara Fleming, a frequent on-air guest on WHUB’s “Good Morning Cookeville with Brent Carl Fleshman,” noticed something that caused her to be extremely concerned.
Acting quickly and decisively, she helped get the program director/6:00 am – 8:00 am host/promotion director/assistant news director of Zimmer Broadcasting-owned “News Talk 107.7 and 1400 The Hub” into the kidney transplant program at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. “She’s been a good friend ever since,” remarks Fleshman, who began his radio career at the age of 30 in Kansas City doing news on – of all days – September 11, 2001.
Given that intensive tests failed to provide conclusive results, frustration understandably set in for the 2019 and 2020 NAB Crystal Award finalist. “They finally ended up saying that what I had was scarring, but they didn’t know where or when it came up,” asserts Fleshman, who previously lived in Southern California; Atlanta; Las Vegas; and New Jersey. In addition, he was a marketing coordinator in Wichita for Intrust Bank Arena. “I was very diabatic then and under a lot of pressure. I drank a lot of soda and ate [many] sweets.”
Located just outside of Vanderbilt is REACH Kidney Care of Nashville, where medical officials educated Fleshman about his condition. “I found out that being under that amount of stress [in Wichita and having those bad diet habits] caused my kidney disease. A biopsy of my liver was taken. They thought I might need a kidney/liver transplant, but my liver was okay. I went through shots in the spine and every other test you can imagine.”
Getting on Vanderbilt’s kidney transplant program requires a nine-month waiting period and when Fleshman attended his first meeting, he recalls the experience as being highly depressing. “I had a lot to learn and can remember the [dejected] looks on the faces of those I met that day. Everyone there was with loved ones; Dr. Fleming was the person who went with me.”
Bob is a miracle match
Following an arduous, nerve-racking process and having been put through a battery of tests the past eight years, Fleshman was finally able to realize the positive wonder of a kidney transplant, with the momentous event occurring last month (3/1/2022).
That’s when, at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon, he was wheeled into a Vanderbilt operating room to receive a kidney flown in from Milwaukee. “I don’t know anything about [the donor other than he was] a 40-year-old man who had passed away,” Fleshman states. “I was told it was a ‘one-in-a-million’ match. That kidney would have found me anywhere in the country because I was taking a blood test every month [in order that my antibody information] was up-to-date. They found that kidney and said it was perfect for me.”
Immediately before Fleshman was put under anesthesia, he saw the bean-shaped organ being pulled from a package. “It’s an image I’ll never forget,” he emphasizes. “The kidney looked like a big chicken breast. The surgery took [nearly five hours] and the recovery was a little longer than I thought. I didn’t sleep that night – they checked on me every hour for 24 straight hours. Doctors and nurses were impressed that I was able to get up and walk the first day that I got the kidney. They didn’t remove [either of my existing kidneys], so I now have three –– and I named my new one ‘Bob.’”
Hospitalized for five days after the transplant, the 2016 NAB Marconi Award “Small Market Personality of the Year” winner/2019 finalist for that award now feels better than he has in years and has seen his extremely high blood pressure decrease considerably. “The new kidney flushed my system: I lost 35 pounds of water weight,” Fleshman declares. “The kidney was such a perfect match that [I was able] to produce urine immediately. My ankles had been very swollen, but now I can actually feel them – it’s a night-and-day difference. I can’t put any needles of any sort though in my left arm. I was told that there might come a time when I’d have to decide if I should go on dialysis, but I haven’t needed it.”
To facilitate blood flowing through Fleshman’s new kidney, the former vice president of the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame has done a considerable amount of walking and taken many laps around his house. “I can’t be around anyone who is sick. It’s important that I take my pills and balance my blood sugar. I’m following all the rules they’re telling me because I don’t want to catch anything.”
It’s imperative that Fleshman maintains a sensible diet that includes avoiding certain foods. “Gone are the days of medium-rare steak; shrimp; and buffets,” laments the recently-elected Tennessee Association of Broadcasters board member. “I can’t have grapefruit or pomegranates because they aren’t compatible with the drugs I’m taking.”
Fish he consumes must be cooked thoroughly. “I’m supposed to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, but must be careful with sodium. I was a type-two diabetic, so we’ll see how it comes out after all this.”
First-year plotline for “B Positive” involved therapist “Drew Dunbar” (played by Thomas Middleditch) needing a kidney donor; a woman from his past, “Gina Dabrowski” (Annaleigh Ashford), successfully offered one of her kidneys.
While familiar with the CBS-TV sitcom that debuted in November 2020, Fleshman – adopted when he was just six months old – hasn’t watched it because, “It was so serious to me. I turned myself off from that. You try not to think about it. Sometimes you put up a wall and just want to live your normal life. You are hoping and trying to [live a healthier lifestyle]. When I was twelve years old, my [adoptive] mom, Kay Ann Fleshman, died in 1983 at the age of 40 [owing to] complications from Hepatitis C, which we believe she contracted through a gastric procedure.”
Aided by one of his half-sisters and a “23 & Me” test he purchased last year, Fleshman was able to get in touch with his biological mother, who he intends to visit in New York State. “We’ve been in contact by text, but haven’t spoken to each other yet,” he explains. “I never knew anything about [the medical history of] my biological family until last year – and I still don’t know that much. I’m getting to know my biological mother, who keeps giving me supportive messages about the transplant. We have not [discussed] my birth father, but [my biological mother] did talk about her own father and family. My adoptive dad, Ben Fleshman, is alive and living in St. Joseph, Missouri.”
This month marks the eight-year anniversary on WHUB for Fleshman, who worked at the news/talk facility right up until the day of his transplant. “I called my boss – Jerry Zimmer – and general manager John Monk. They said, ‘Go – we’ve got you covered.’ Jerry [assured me] that I will have a job when [I’m ready to return]. He has paid me my full salary since I’ve been gone.”
Over and above Fleshman’s previously-detailed copious WHUB duties, he somehow simultaneously managed to do mid-days (10:00 am – 3:00 pm) on co-owned classic hits WPTN “106.1 The Eagle – Cookeville’s Greatest Hits”; weekends on country cluster-mate WGSQ “94.7 The Giant”; updated website information for all four Zimmer Broadcasting Cookeville stations; and has been the company’s assistant production director. “They call me the ‘entertainment guru’ on ‘The Eagle’ because I seem to have a vast knowledge of entertainment,” acknowledges Fleshman, who goes by “Brent Carl Fleshman” on WHUB and “Brent Carl” when on “The Eagle,” a shift that takes him 60 – 90 minutes to voice-track.
Absent from on-air responsibilities all of March and – at minimum – the first-half of April, an anxious Fleshman underscores, “I’ve missed it – I’ve missed it a lot. I miss conversations with people and being able to talk my mind. It feels as though I haven’t been able to pour myself out to the people who listen in the morning. I sent a text last Wednesday [4/6, indicating] that I’m ready to return – I’m waiting to hear what [Jerry Zimmer and John Monk] think. If they [agree to my proposed suggestion], I’ll probably return in two weeks, [although I] helped run some remotes last weekend as they were short-staffed. I do multiple shows, so when I get back, it will have to be at a slow pace. [WHUB’s] morning show is the big one – it’s the one [for which] I won the Marconi. I’m a talker with the ‘gift for gab’ and was born to do it; [however], I haven’t done a live, two-hour show in [six] weeks. It’s political season and many candidates want to be on the show. There’s a lot going on and I love doing the talk show.”
Anyone who goes through a pressure-packed ordeal such as a kidney transplant needs an absolute rock by their side. In Fleshman’s case, it’s been his fiancé, Lindsay Pride, the first-ever female editor of Cookeville’s Herald-Citizen. “Through tears, sadness, and joy, she went through all of this with me,” he proudly proclaims. “It was harder for her than it was for me. For the first two weeks [after the transplant], I was like a child and the emotions were raging. I’m now in a much better place mentally. I talked about my kidney disease on the morning show and several [listeners] tried to be a match. As long as the kidney doesn’t reject me, this is lifechanging. You never know how sick you are until something like this happens.”
Unable to enjoy the luxury of having a daily news/talk platform these past six weeks has actually made an introspective Fleshman realize how genuinely fortunate he is. “I’m in this great industry and with a job I love – it has been the ride of my life,” he enthusiastically comments. “I’ve been given a second chance with this kidney and am grateful to the man who signed that donor card [making it possible for me to] continue doing what I love every day. I intend to make the most of it. I look forward to getting back on the air soon and have asked Dr. Fleming to be on my first show. If [the host of WHUB’s 30-minute Saturday health program, ‘Your Best Health Connection’] hadn’t noticed my symptoms eight years ago and gone to Vanderbilt with me, I would never have seen this day. Radio saved my life.”
Contact TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian at Mike.Kinosian@gmail.com