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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 12, 2004

Kidney is link of life, friendship for 3 in marathon

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer

Kailua resident Kathleen Hashimoto will run today's Honolulu Marathon powered by a new kidney, just eight months after she received the life-saving donation from a woman she hadn't met until the operation.

Kidney donor Kristie Walker, left, and recipient Kathleen Hashimoto, right, flank mutual friend Betsy Lewis, whose e-mail efforts brought the two together.

Photo courtesy Hashimoto family

And she'll be joined in the race by both her donor, Kristie Walker, and the mutual friend who brought them together.

"It was just such a blessing to find her. It really gave us a lot of faith in humankind," Hashimoto said. "She allowed me to have a normal life. She is a life-giver."

Nationally, more than 60,000 people are seeking kidney transplants, including almost 400 in Hawai'i.

It's a need that Hashimoto's parents and siblings — the Barcias of Kailua — know well. Most of them have polycystic kidney disease, which eventually critically disables the kidneys. Hashimoto's father and seven of her nine brothers and sisters also have the disease. Three of the siblings — including Hashimoto — have received transplants; five more will need them.

But today they're celebrating life, and both donor and recipient will join an estimated 26,000 other runners and walkers for the marathon. They will begin in the predawn darkness, wend their way from the starting line near Ward Center, through downtown and back through Waikiki and Kahala to Hawai'i Kai and return, finishing at Kapi'olani Park.

A year ago, Hashimoto, a 38-year-old mother of two, was struggling with the grim possibility that she would be forced to start dialysis because of kidney failure. None of more than 35 family members and friends who volunteered as potential donors was a match.

Kidney transplant recipient Kathleen Hashimoto goes running with daughters Elizabeth, 5, left, and Marie, 3. Just 8 months after her surgery, Hashimoto will run in today's Honolulu Marathon.


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And she became progressively weaker as her kidneys deteriorated.

Doctors said she had developed antibodies that limited her ability to find a good match.

"They told me 'you're not going to find a donor,'" Hashimoto said.

But they didn't count on Betsy Lewis.

Lewis, a college friend of Hashimoto's who lives in California, sent an e-mail to friends asking if they would consider being tested as potential donors who would give up one of their healthy kidneys to help Hashimoto, a longtime distance runner who has won marathons and even been the first female Hawai'i finisher in the Honolulu Marathon.

Among those receiving the appeal from Lewis was 31-year-old Walker, a program director for a Hewlett-Packard corporate fitness center in San Diego.

Walker admits that when she first agreed to be tested as a donor, she thought the chances of matching were slim. When she read about what a good friend Hashimoto had been to Lewis when she had cancer, how Hashimoto was a mother and an athlete, she wanted to try.

"If she didn't have children, I think it would have been a tougher question. I just love kids and I wanted them to have their mother around," Walker said. "That was definitely a clincher for me."

Walker keeps in shape herself, mostly surfing and playing softball. And she had been donating blood for years, so getting tested made sense to her.

"I found out I was a match a week later," Walker said. She then asked a lot of questions: How long would the recovery be? She took two weeks off work. How would she be affected? Doctors suggest that donors limit contact sports that could injure their remaining kidney.

The surgery was scheduled for April at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Hashimoto and her family stayed in California for five weeks. Walker went home three days after the operation.

On a recent day, Hashimoto smiled as she watched her daughters, Elizabeth, 5, and Marie, 3, working on art projects and listening to stories.

About organ donation

Nationally, last year was the first time there were more living organ donors than non-living donors, according to Christine Bogee, administrative director of the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii.

Although she is encouraged by the life-saving trend, Bogee hopes for more awareness of the benefits of donating at death.

"If more people donated their organs, there would not be a shortage or a need to ask living donors," she said.

As of last month, 413 people in Hawai'i were seeking organ donations. Those transplant needs break down as 389 kidneys, five kidney / pancreas, six pancreas, 24 livers and three hearts, Bogee said.

Nationally, 87,257 were seeking organ donations as of last month, with more than 60,151 in need of kidneys.

Bogee offers some ways to help:

• If you want to donate organs upon your death, talk to your family to make sure they know.

• Make sure you put "organ donor" on you state ID or driver's license if you want to donate.

• For more information, call the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii at 599-7630.

• On the Web: www.organdonor.gov, www.unos.org, www.shareyourlife.org.

At the time of the surgery in California, Hashimoto said Elizabeth hugged Walker and told her: "God has sent you. You are an angel from heaven, and you saved my mother's life."

And Walker feels good about the donation, too.

"I know it's been a blessing for her. But in a lot of ways, I feel like it has been for me, too," she said.

No matter what else happens in her life, she knows she has already made a big difference.

"I know I've served a purpose," Walker said.

Hashimoto said there is some controversy about people who send out personal requests for donors while others wait on the transplant list. But she said she felt comfortable knowing that her family and friends had asked people they know and found someone who would not have donated otherwise.

Walker said she was moved to make the donation because Hashimoto was a friend who had helped a friend.

"I don't know that I could do the anonymous donation," she said.

Hashimoto's husband, Mark, a civilian employee of the military and a Marine reservist who served in Iraq, also had asked friends, fellow Marines and members of their church, St. John Vianney in Kailua, for help. Several had volunteered.

Hashimoto's father got a kidney transplant from a donor who designated their organs for transplant, her mother donated a kidney to a brother, and another brother received a kidney from his wife.

As they thank Walker this month, the family members now are hoping for more good news for Hashimoto's sister, Amy Harpstrite, another Kailua resident whose need for a transplant is increasing.

Amy, 39, is a pediatrician who works part time at Castle Medical Center. Like most of the Barcia family, Harpstrite runs regularly but prefers triathlons to marathons.

Harpstrite said her kidney function has declined to the point that she has been placed on the transplant list, but so far the disease hasn't changed life much for her, her husband and their three children.

"I'm pretty functional; mostly I'm just tired," she said.

Harpstrite remains optimistic about a transplant and continuing advancements in treatment.

"There's been so much progress in recent years," she said.

They are still checking within their circles of family and friends to see if any volunteers match. Harpstrite is reassured by the family support as well as the medical progress.

"This is a not like a life sentence," Harpstrite said. "It's something that's fixable."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.