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Local musician John Sferra wants to return to the stage — but first he needs a kidney

Local musician John Sferra was diagnosed with kidney failure in July 2018. Since July 2020, he has been on dialysis and is hoping to receive a kidney transplant.
Sferra A 06102021
Local musician John Sferra (middle) is hoping for a kidney transplant so he can get back to his music career. Sferra has done Glass Harp reunion concerts since 2000 with Phil Keaggy (left) and Daniel Pecchio (right). (Photo provided by John Sferra)

Local musician John Sferra is looking for a new kidney on Facebook

His fiancee Heidi Dietz got the idea to start an online group from friends who used the social media site to find an organ donor. Sferra hopes he can, too. 

The 69-year-old drummer and member of the Youngstown-based band Glass Harp is ready to get back on stage. 

But without a kidney transplant, his dreams are on hold. 

Sferra said he would not be able to do a full concert with rehearsals because kidney dialysis affects him differently every day. Some days he has a lot of energy; other days he said he feels depleted. 

“I am just going to have to forego until, hopefully, a kidney transplant,” Sferra said. 

Glass Harp

At the tender age of 16, Sferra launched his music career as a member of the Glass Harp, a progressive rock group, in 1968. 

He played drums alongside with guitarist Phil Keaggy and bassist Daniel Pecchio.

Glass Harp recorded three albums and three singles with Decca Records. In 1974, the band officially broke up but has been doing reunion concerts since 2000.

Over the years, Sferra has worked with other musicians and groups to make music and perform at bars, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. 

As a drummer, Sferra is able to work with many different music styles. He particularly enjoys progressive rock, fusion and pop. 

He also plays the guitar and enjoys writing music. 

Sferra said he is lucky to have been able to make his passion for music into a career. 

“I haven’t had any huge commercial success or anything like that, but it’s kept me going,” Sferra said.

The last concert he played was with Glass Harp at the Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland in 2019. 

Diagnosis 

Sferra regularly sees a doctor for his Type 1 diabetes, and he never had issues with his kidneys. 

But, during a routine visit in 2018, his doctors discovered his kidneys were in third stage failure. His kidneys had 60 percent scarring, he learned. 

Kidney failure typically takes years to develop — even for people with hypertension and glucose issues. 

Sferra had neither.

“It came on really fast,” Sferra said. “The doctors were puzzled … It just abruptly changed things.”

In July 2020, Sferra was put on dialysis, which he said is both time-consuming and exhausting. 

“It’s a constant battle. I never know from day to day how I will feel,” Sferra said.

Since starting the Facebook page, Sferra knows a few people who have contacted the Cleveland Clinic Transplant Center to see if they would be a match. 

He is also on the list for a deceased organ donor, which can take three to five years for a transplant to happen. 

“So far, for one reason or another, it hasn’t worked out,” Sferra said. 

Getting back in the game

In spite of his condition, Sferra stays positive, with the help of his fiancee Heidi Dietz and his stepdaughter Holly Luna. 

The Facebook group helps, too. 

While created to help Sferra find a donor, it’s also morphed into a support network. Members of the group share inspiring words and prayers for Sferra.  

“I believe the biggest part of the battle of this kidney failure, and I think of old age in general, is prayer,” Sferra said. “I have been uplifted [and] keeping a positive attitude.”

The page has also helped raise awareness of kidney failure within Sferra’s online community, he said. 

By telling his story, he said it can help others through their journey of waiting for a kidney transplant or even just to make more people aware of kidney failure and transplants. 

To be able to continue playing music since starting dialysis, Sferra records in his at-home studio in Howland. He's played drum tracks for local musicians and worked with some production people in Nashville. 

With music venue bookings surging as pandemic restrictions are lifted, Sferra said Glass Harp would be rescheduling concerts for the summer. 

He hopes he’ll be able to join his bandmates soon. 

“I think I have more music in me,” Sferra said.



Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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