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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, August 11, 2001

Strangers answer call to save life

By Adrienne Ancheta
Advertiser Staff Writer

Diane Gomes Simon, 60, is near the end stage of kidney failure, but her daughter, Roxanne Gomes, is not giving up. Gomes is asking for volunteers for a kidney-donation pool.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Roxanne Gomes has had chicken skin for days. Her voice chokes when she tries to explain it.

Twenty-eight people, complete strangers to Gomes who didn't even know who she was until just a few days ago, are trying to help her.

Gomes wrote a letter to the editor of every newspaper in Hawai'i pleading for healthy people 18 years or older to consider donating a kidney to her ailing mother, Diane Gomes Simon, who is at the end stage of kidney failure. She received nine calls when the letter was printed in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo and an additional 19 strangers dialed her number since Tuesday, when her letter was printed in The Advertiser.

"It's just unbelievable to have total strangers be willing to do this," Gomes said. "I feel we are going to find something."

Simon, 60, has had diabetes for more than 20 years, which led to her kidney failure. She joined the kidney waiting list in May after it was determined that no one in her family was a suitable donor.

But with 300 on the list and more than a two-year wait for Simon's blood and tissue type, along with an extensive medical history including two heart surgeries and diabetes, Gomes decided she could not just watch her mother deteriorate.

Writing to the newspapers was a last resort but one that so far has returned better-than-expected response.

"It's a fantastic effort," said Catherine Bailey, a transplant evaluator at St. Francis Transplant. "Of course we can't ask (for donor organs) because that would be an ethical issue, but since it's out there it has gotten great response."

Patients needing organs may bypass the wait list by finding their own donors. While some potential donors for Simon asked to be considered only as long as they are a match for her, others volunteered to add to the general kidney pool and donate to other patients.

Those who join the kidney pool are a welcome addition, Bailey said, because donors are in such short supply. Only four or five people have entered the kidney pool since January 2000. One man with blood type B, which has a waiting list of seven years, entered the pool by responding on Simon's behalf.

Response has been good because the letter hit a personal note with some people, Gomes said.

"I am asking everyone to help save the life of the most precious person in my life, my mom," the Big Island resident wrote.

One call came from a woman who just gave birth and another from an 87-year-old man. People on the Big Island, Maui, Kaua'i and O'ahu have called. So far, only five of the callers passed the first medical screening and moved to tissue testing, after which another two weeks must pass to determine if the donors' kidneys are suitable for Simon.

Even if a donor is not found, the work will not be a failure for Gomes. "I did what I could. I did my best and Mom knows that and that's all that matters," Gomes said.

Simon, who lives on O'ahu, is overwhelmed by her daughter's work so far.

"It's wonderful because I didn't ask her to do it," Simon said. "This is beyond love. Even if it wasn't my daughter and it was somebody else's daughter doing this, I would admire that girl."

For information on how to be screened for a donation to Simon, call Gomes at (808) 934-0576 or the St. Francis transplant center at 547-6228.