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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 19, 2004

Son lives on through transplant recipients

By Anna Weaver
Advertiser Staff Writer

The first thing that Jessie Ginoza wanted to do when she met Yolanda Domingo was listen to her son's heart beating inside the woman's chest.

Frank and Jessie Ginoza are surrounded by recipients of their son's organs. Tony Sagayadoro and Celita Julian each received a kidney, and Yolanda Domingo, rear, received Steven Ginoza's heart.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

After 28-year-old Steven Ginoza died from a fall off an Ala Moana escalator on Mother's Day 2000, Jessie Ginoza and her husband, Frank, had to make the difficult decision about donating Steven's organs.

"It seemed to be OK once we accepted finally that he was gone," she said.

Domingo was one of four people saved by Steven the day he died. Tony Sagayadoro and Celita Julian each received one of his kidneys. Another man received Steven's liver.

They are among 71 people who have been saved by organ transplants since July 2001, when a partnership began between the Honolulu Police Department and the Organ Donor Center of Hawai'i.

The Ginozas and three organ recipients exchanged letters for about a year before a meeting was arranged by the Organ Donation Center of Hawai'i at St. Francis Medical Center. The Ginozas have never met the California man who received Steven's liver.

"Never once did it hurt to hear from them," Jessie Ginoza said. "It really helped our grieving process."

"I feel sorry for other families that don't get to connect with the organ recipients," Frank Ginoza said. "They don't have the fine ending that we have."

That connection between these former strangers is immediately apparent. Julian calls Jessie Ginoza "mother." The Ginozas have attended the graduations of Sagayadoro's daughter and Domingo's son, and they all have been to parties together. Domingo and Sagayadoro traveled with the Ginozas to Florida in 2002 for the Transplant Games, an event where donors and recipients compete in their own version of the Olympics.

Saving lives

• To become an organ donor, discuss your intentions with your family because they give final permission in any situation. Have "organ donor" designated on your driver's license or get an organ donor card from the Organ Donor Center of Hawai'i.

• There are more than 400 patients in Hawai'i waiting for a transplant: 378 need kidneys, 22 livers, 2 hearts, 2 kidney-pancreas and 3 pancreas.

• In Hawai'i, about 12 people die each year waiting for a donated organ.

• Nationally, about 86,000 patients are waiting for an organ donation. Kidney transplants are needed for 58,479 people and 17,462 liver transplants are needed.

• For more information about organ donation, call ODCH at 599-7630.

But it's how readily they talk about Steven and themselves that their close relationship is evident. Domingo, Sagayadoro and Julian all feel Steven living on through the transplants, and the Ginozas' descriptions of Steven support that belief.

After the transplant, Domingo, who is a University of Hawai'i student, says she started loving chocolate-covered raisins and Nestle crunch bars, two of Steven's favorite foods. She even considered majoring in civil engineering. This was before she knew anything about Steven, who was a civil engineer for the Board of Water Supply.

"I've learned to live that Steven didn't pass away," Domingo said. "He lives on in me."

The full-blooded Japanese Ginozas remind the three recipients that they are now Japanese, too. Julian is about to take a Japanese language course and sometimes craves sushi. And all three say they have a new energy.

"Now it's like I'm alive," said Julian, a shift supervisor at Hickam Air Force Base's exchange. "People ask me, 'Celita, what kind of power bar do you eat?'"

"I know when I got sick, I thought I was going to die," Domingo said. "You do get this second chance. So to me, we need to live life to its fullest."

Sagayadoro feels the same way. "Each day's a bonus. You can look at it that way," he said. "Everybody's living a normal life all because of the generosity of a family."

Sagayadoro now works with Organ Donation Center of Hawai'i as a program coordinator for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program and the largely Filipino community group Bayanihan.

While people can designate themselves as an organ donor on their driver's licenses, the Organ Donor Center of Hawai'i has no way of immediately knowing the designation. A new law allows ODCH to contact HPD dispatch and find out whether "organ donor" was designated on a person's license. Families could then make informed decisions about a potential donor's wishes.

"Grieving families find comfort in being able to give life to others, that they honor the wishes of a loved one," said Felicia Wells-Williams, who was the ODCH liaison for the Ginozas and the organ recipients. "In all the pain and loss they are able to think of others and want to give hope to others."

ODCH's executive director Darryl Ing says that there is a 100 percent consent rate when families know potential donors have listed themselves as organ donors. The overall consent rate has risen from 31 percent to 49 percent because of the law, he says.

The same law also allows people to donate $1 to the Hawai'i Organ Donation Coalition when they renew their motor vehicle registration.

Reach Anna Weaver at aweaver@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2455.