Headbanger’s Call

Written by Nicki Escudero Category: Valley News Issue: April 2014
Group Free

A popular Phoenix-based Internet channel promotes organ donation and awareness alongside heavy metal music videos.

In addition to the visage of Alice Cooper tearing the legs off a chicken, or of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a dove, the term “heavy metal” conjures images of long-haired guys in bands with names like Megadeth and Cannibal Corpse, thrashing their locks around while strumming V-shaped guitars painted with skulls. It’s not exactly a healing and life-affirming aesthetic – which makes the charitable mission of local Internet video station Heavy Metal Television all the more interesting.

Founded last year by 48-year-old Phoenician Eric Braverman, HMT plays heavy metal music videos spanning the past 40 years for 24 hours a day. Since its inception last summer, more than 300,000 people have visited the site. Braverman hopes he and his two-dozen-person crew can capitalize on HMT’s growing audience to raise awareness for organ donation – and hopefully find a donor for the channel’s first VJ, 21-year-old Mercedes Romero, who lost both her kidneys to end-stage renal disease in 2011.  

Braverman – whose fuzzy, shoulder-length sideburns resemble a forked beard – laments the lengthy wait lists and dearth of donors. More than 120,000 people are waiting for transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. According to Banner Health, Arizona’s rate of organ donation ranks near the bottom of the U.S, and the average wait time for an organ transplant here is three to five years. “This is a serious problem in America, and it’s wasteful,” Braverman says. “When you’re dead, you don’t need your eyes, your heart, your liver. Donating could bring joy to people who are suffering.”

HMT has dedicated 2014 to promoting organ donation on the channel, and they plan on filming and walking in the 2014 Arizona Kidney Walk at Chase Field on April 6. As the sign they’ve used to promote the campaign reads, the HMT team “Will VJ for Kidney.”

“Kidney disease is global, we’re global, and we want this to be a global campaign,” says Mercedes’ mom and HMT general manager Phoenix Romero-Booth. “We know Heavy Metal Television fans are some of the strongest fans in the world, and we know they can share the message of how important organ donation is.”

Mercedes Romero, an aspiring nurse, has had 60 hospital visits and 14 surgeries to treat her disease. Now, the Mesa Community College student is on dialysis three times a week, for three hours a day. Average life expectancy on dialysis is uncertain: While The National Kidney Foundation says “some dialysis patients may live as long as people without kidney failure,” the American Kidney Fund says the average life expectancy for dialysis patients is five to six years. A weakened immune system and migraines are just a couple side effects of the treatment.

“It’s been really hard and has given me a lot of challenges and struggles, but I try to stay positive in life,” Romero says. “If I just stayed home and had a negative attitude, depression could kick in, and I could go down a bad road. I try to stay gracious for the doctors who have saved my life while I’ve been chronically ill.”

Romero is currently on a kidney transplant wait list – where she may be for several years before receiving a kidney, even though potential living matches abound.

Finding a live donor is an intensive process. They can’t be smokers, heavy drinkers or drug users. An optimal body mass index is required, the blood type must match, and donors must be able to live with one kidney the rest of their lives. Because of these restrictions, no one close to Romero has been able to donate, which makes raising awareness about organ donation a priority for HMT.

The HMT crew encourages people to let loved ones know if they’d like their organs to be donated upon death. Survivors should be vocal about donation wishes, since organs have a short shelf-life of 48 hours.

“Hundreds of thousands of viable organs are buried or cremated every year because people did not sign up to be a donor,” Romero-Booth says. “Like Mercedes says, ‘Don’t bury them. Don’t burn them. Donate them, and give the gift of life.’”

Metal Health
To see Mercedes Romero on HMT, visit heavymetaltelevision.com. The VJ schedule varies weekly, but Romero will be on from 7 p.m.-midnight Monday-Friday the first week of April.

For more information on organ donation, visit dnaz.org