Noel Okimoto

Wednesday - June 21, 2006
By Kerry Miller | Share

Noel Okimoto
Noel Okimoto

In March 2005 Noel Okimoto appeared on one of MidWeek’s first weekend edition covers. Since then, the famed Hawaii drummer recorded an award-winning jazz CD, Ohana, toured with ukulele talent Jake Shimabukuro and, more recently, is recuperating from a kidney transplant operation.

“Musically I’m not doing anything right now. I’m home from the hospital (he was released June 11 from St. Francis),” says the Palolo resident. “The kidney is doing great. I feel like a different person.”

Okimoto first discovered he had kidney disease four years ago when he went to the doctor for something totally unrelated.

“My blood pressure was really high, (it) led to the discovery that I had kidney disease,” he says.

After learning of the two treatment methods, dialysis and transplant, Okimoto and his wife Liane attended educational classes on both methods. “My wife said she would get tested to see if she was a donor,” Okimoto explains. A year and a half later, the couple got the news that Liane was a match.

“We were the same blood type,” he says. “Everything just worked out great.”

In May, Okimoto unexpectedly started dialysis treatment after his kidneys failed (the couple had scheduled the transplant operation for June 6). Talk about interesting timing - all of this happened just before a May 21 show that he and Jake Shimabukuro were scheduled to headline.

“The concert was a huge success. Jake played (the first half). The second half was a big band with Gabe Baltazar on the sax. We completely sold out in like a week. It was the first time,” Okimoto says.

In three months’ time Okimoto can once again perform in public, a day he is really looking forward to.

“That’s going to be a big day to get the ‘all clear’ to go out and start playing. I miss playing. I’m really looking forward to going back. Jazz is my passion. It could be a small gig, but a big thing for me, playing with others,” he confesses.

For now, the couple are basically “home-bound,” while both rest from their surgeries and while Okimoto is on medication to keep his immune system up and to make sure that his new kidney takes.

“Post transplantation, the challenge is the first three months. (It) pretty much keeps you locked down. Your immune system is compromized and they try to keep you away from people, especially sick people. We’re both healing and recuperating.”

The couple also owes a big debt of thanks to their family and friends, who Okimoto says have “just been there for us. That’s a wonderful thing. Our family has been helpful.”

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