The Opportunity To Save A Life
Wednesday - November 02, 2005
“What is also common is that the vast majority of those on the waiting list are in need of kidneys.” - Glen Hayashida, National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii
Before the kidney transplant, my father Harold’s legs and feet were black. A dull, lifeless, chalky black. I hated looking at them. They reminded me of how sick he really was, even though he never complained. What I didn’t realize was that his feet weren’t the only parts of his body that had changed during the time he was on dialysis, and even before that. I didn’t see it because the decline had been so gradual. I didn’t see it because I really didn’t want to.
Many of you have been so overwhelmingly supportive ever since the transplant announcement was made. You have e-mailed, written letters and even called me up to tell me in person, and I am grateful and tremendously touched. And I want to let all of you know how much your good thoughts and prayers have meant to both of us. I also want you to know that it was worth it.
This week, we will be airing a series of reports on our KGMB newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m., detailing the process of live kidney donation. My father and I are the subjects of the reports, but I have to confess, I did not do the reporting myself. The thought of directing coverage of what felt to me like a personal, family matter was very difficult for me. But I also knew we had a wonderful and rare opportunity to provide a needed public service - and it’s an opportunity I have simply because my job puts me in the public eye. I just could not squander the chance to demystify a procedure that can help so many people.
Here are just some of the reasons it’s so important to learn about live kidney donations. First and foremost, the need far outstrips the demand. Glen Hayashida of the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii says this is because of the rise in chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Another factor is that we’re living longer.
And in Hawaii, we have higher rates of kidney disease and diabetes. We just do. The difference between the Mainland and us is startling. Nationally, 71 percent of people waiting for transplants need kidneys, while here at home it’s a whopping 90 percent! And to make matters worse, the rate of living donations is lower in Hawaii than in the rest of the nation. I just cannot understand how that can be in our Aloha State. The people of Hawaii are so giving in so many ways - why not this?
Right now, of the 390 Hawaii residents waiting and hoping for organ donations, 353 of them need kidneys. Some of those people will receive cadaver kidneys, and that’s good but not optimal. Others, sadly, will never get the organ they need. And a few will receive a kidney from a live donor. The Kidney Foundation says this year there have been 17 living kidney transplants in Hawaii.
So why a live donor? Because patients who receive a live kidney do better. They don’t wait as long. Their donated kidney functions more effectively and lasts longer than cadaver kidneys.
If you are thinking of being a donor but are afraid because of what it may mean for you, it’s OK. It’s natural to be afraid. But knowing the facts may help. And the facts are that you will not be allowed to donate unless you are in perfect health. Giving a kidney does not lessen your life span. It does not diminish your quality of life. It does not force you to change your lifestyle - except maybe for the better. By that I mean that you’ll probably appreciate your life and health even more after the surgery. You may be motivated to improve your diet and exercise more regularly. I was on the treadmill a few days after coming home from the hospital. OK, I walked very, very, very slowly. But the point is, you recover.
And guess what? You may now lack an organ, but you don’t feel empty inside. Quite the opposite. You feel full of life, and full of love.
Those who saw my father right after the operation told me about a miracle. The kidney was connected - and immediately it turned pink. And his body accepted it right away. When he woke up he looked like a different man. He was flush with color - the right color. The poisons that had clogged his system and turned his skin to dull ash were being swept away. He looked like my old dad again.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t feel I could handle showing you all of this myself. But I am so fortunate to have people I could turn to for help. My friends, reporter Jim Mendoza and photographers Rick Pike and George Hurd, stepped in to document our journey. Thanks to them we are able to share not just a story, but also a message. And that is, under the proper circumstances and with the right experts looking after you, giving an organ is not a scary or a dangerous thing. It’s a miracle of science, faith - and love.
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