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CPD Supt. Johnson says he is on kidney transplant waiting list

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks at a press conference at Chicago Police Headquarters Friday evening to confirm he is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Joining Johnson were (from left) Jack Lynch of Gift of Hope; Dr. Paul Crawford; Mayor Rahm Emanuel and members of police department's command staff, including First Deputy Supt. Kevin Navarro. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Friday confirmed he is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

The operation, not yet scheduled, would require him to be off work for three to five weeks, Johnson said. His need for a kidney transplant was first reported by the Sun-Times.

“I do not require dialysis, nor do I have diabetes,” Johnson said, adding that until he gets the transplant, “with the blessing of my doctors,” he will stay on the job.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Johnson let him know about his kidney problems early on.

WAITING: Johnson is among more than 4,000 on list for a kidney transplant in Illinois

“From Day 1, he’s been upfront with me about his health conditions,” the mayor said at the Friday night news conference. “I’ve always been confident in his ability to do the job and I’ve seen it up close.”

City Hall sources earlier refused to say if Emanuel knew about Johnson’s condition before appointing him superintendent.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (right) before falling ill Friday at a news conference at the Seventh District police station on the South Side. With him are Ald. David Moore and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Fran Spielman / Sun-Times
Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (right) before falling ill Friday at a news conference at the Seventh District police station on the South Side. With him are Ald. David Moore and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

The superintendent held the news conference at CPD headquarters after falling ill and losing his balance during a news conference at a South Side police station earlier in the day.Johnson said he was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis, a kidney condition, 32 years ago at age 25. He found out he had it while taking the CPD entrance exam, according to department spokesman Frank Giancamilli.

“It hasn’t affected my ability to lead a normal life or to be your superintendent,” Johnson said. He’s on a waiting list through the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network. The transplant would take place at Rush University Medical Center.

Johnson said he fell ill because “I took blood-pressure medication on an empty stomach, which is something you shouldn’t do. … As a result, I got lightheaded” and was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center for evaluation.

Dr. Paul Crawford, Johnson’s physician, also spoke at the Friday news conference, saying Johnson’s condition improved quickly once he was at the hospital.

Johnson said had had been admitted to the hospital in November for a spike in his potassium levels.

Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi earlier had told the Sun-Times the near-collapse Friday at the Englewood District station was unrelated to the superintendent’s longstanding kidney condition. Johnson appeared fine before the news conference.

Dr. Raquel Garcia Roca, the surgical director of renal transplants at Loyola Medicine, said kidney patients should expect to stay in the hospital for four to five days after their transplant surgeries.

Patients with desk jobs generally should expect to take another six to eight weeks to recover at home before returning to work, Roca said. “It depends on the overall health of the person,” she added.

A source familiar with Johnson’s health said: “He should be able to get the transplant and get back on his feet in short order. … It’s not like he’ll be out for months.”

Emanuel selected Johnson, 56, for the high-profile superintendent’s job in March.

Since then, Johnson has been dealing with continued fallout from the Laquan McDonald shooting, other cases of officers shooting suspects and a U.S. Department of Justice report released this month that concluded Chicago’s police force is ill-trained, suffers from a morale problem and uses force in a manner that places both civilians and officers at risk.

It was unclear who might be in charge of the department if and when Johnson undergoes surgery. His second-in-command is Kevin Navarro, who Johnson tapped as first deputy superintendent in August to replace John Escalante. Escalante left to become police chief at Northeastern Illinois University.

The medical revelations about Johnson came after he “felt lightheaded” at the Englewood District station, 1483 W. 63rd St. Johnson lost his balance but never collapsed.

Emanuel gave him some water. An ambulance arrived, but Johnson left in a city-owned police SUV. Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said Johnson walked to the car on his own.

The news conference had been called to highlight upgrades in crime-prediction analytics being made in the department. It was wrapping up when Johnson started getting rubber-legged, and his eyes appeared to glaze over.

Johnson was the surprise choice of Emanuel as superintendent after the mayor rejected three nominees chosen by the Chicago Police Board last year after a nationwide search. Johnson hadn’t applied for the job when he was thrust into the high-profile post.

At the time, he said he didn’t want to compete with Escalante for the position. Now the question is whether his kidney condition had anything to do with that decision.

Chicago has been on the receiving end of a constant barrage of negative comments by President Donald Trump, who this week used the city as an example of the “carnage” happening on the nation’s streets.

“What the hell is going on in Chicago?” Trump asked this week, and he tweeted that, if things couldn’t be brought under control, it might be time to bring in “the feds.”

An ambulance arrives after police Supt. Eddie Johnson fell ill at a news conference Friday on the South Side. | Fran Spielman / Sun-Times
An ambulance arrives after police Supt. Eddie Johnson fell ill at a news conference Friday on the South Side. | Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

On Friday, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo denied that Johnson’s illness and kidney transplant would be another morale blow to the rank-and-file.

“Everyone will circle around him and embrace anything that he needs or his family needs. That is what the women and men of this department are made of,” Angelo said. “That is our boss. This is a time when we will extend our hand of support as we would for any other member of this department.”

In June 2014, former police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who preceded Johnson, was hospitalized for two days and underwent an angioplasty, a procedure to unblock his arteries.

McCarthy continued to serve as superintendent until December 2015 when he was fired by the mayor following the release of the McDonald video, which showed a cop fatally shooting the 17-year-old, who was holding a knife but appeared to be turning away from the officer at the time.

Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted sources as saying police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s kidney disease stemmed from his battling diabetes. Police department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Johnson doesn’t have diabetes.