KIDNEY TRANSPLANT COUPLES
MEET THEIR MATCH
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
It was the second paired organ exchange for the Transplant Institute at St. Francis Medical Center, where four consecutive surgeries were done Oct. 19. Amos Burnett, center, donated a kidney to Erin Tolbert, right. His wife, Lisa-Ann, left, got a kidney from Tolbert's fiance, Will Akina, far right. The couples spent Thanksgiving together, where Amos Burnett said grace.
Circle of life
In a paired organ exchange, two men each donated a kidney to the other’s partner
Nearly a year ago, as Lisa-Ann Burnett, 40, waited for a kidney transplant, she was certain there was "somebody out there" to give her a lifesaving organ.
The "somebody" turned out to be Will Akina, 33, fiance of Erin Tolbert, 28, who also needed a kidney transplant.
Burnett's husband, Amos Burnett, 40, a chief petty officer in the Navy, was not a match for his wife, but he was for Tolbert.
The men donated kidneys to the women in the second paired exchange arranged by the Transplant Institute at St. Francis Medical Center.
Transplant surgeons Whitney Limm and Alan Cheung performed the four surgeries in succession on Oct. 19.
"They're all doing fantastic," said Cathy Bailey, living-donor evaluation coordinator at the Transplant Institute.
She said both women would have had to wait seven more years for a transplant without the matched donors.
"Lisa-Ann unfortunately had antibodies (that can attack an organ of a different blood type), and Erin is in the B blood group. So this worked out perfect for them."
The couples spent Thanksgiving together, with much to be thankful for, including new friendships.
"We spend a lot of time together," Lisa-Ann said. "Will doesn't have a sister; he considers me his sister. I consider him my brother. They spoil my children."
Lisa-Ann has had lupus for about 17 years, a disease in which the immune system attacks the body's tissue and organs.
She is on leave from Lehua Elementary School, where she works in the office and is PTA president. The school held a blood drive in January to support her and others needing blood for surgery.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lisa-Ann Burnett, center, shares a laugh with Will Akina as Erin Tolbert, left, looks on. Burnett's husband, Amos, left, finalizes preparations for Thanksgiving dinner.
Burnett said she still gets tired and has some pain. "I try to do what I can do. ... It will take a while to get back to myself."
She has gained 10 pounds because "a lot of toxin is out of my body, and everything tastes different. As soon as the doctor gives me the OK, I'm going to take it off," she said.
She also plans to start walking her children -- Amir, 10, and Amos, 7 -- to school instead of driving them.
She said her husband also has some pain but returned to work Nov. 3. He had taken leave during a transfer from the Navy cruiser Port Royal to the Navy shipyard as a technician.
Tolbert said she has had a kidney problem since she was 2 years old, and "I don't really know what caused kidney failure."
She received a kidney donated by her brother in 1992. It lasted seven years. "Then, after a while, I got sick again," she said. She had been on dialysis.
Tolbert said she and Akina have been together about six years. He asked the Transplant Institute's Bailey about 1 1/2 years ago if there were any way she could get a transplant sooner than the long wait to find a donor.
"She said there is such a thing as a donor trade, with possibly a shorter wait," Tolbert said. "Will was actually the one who mentioned it. He said he wanted to do it to get a kidney sooner."
The Aiea couple learned in August that Bailey had the Burnetts in mind for a donor trade, and more tests were done to make sure everybody was a perfect match.
"I feel grateful," Tolbert said. "I can do pretty much whatever I like, except go back to work." She makes reservations for the Nature Company, which books hiking and guided tours.
Akina is not working right now, she said. "He's a little sore but doing good, too."
The couples got together for a barbecue at the Burnetts' Pearl City home the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the men watched a football game.
Bailey said donors and recipients in the first paired kidney exchange, on May 13, also are doing great.
Chad Jumawan's kidney went to P.C. Eide, while husband Kenneth Eide gave a kidney to Jumawan's mother, Loretta Respicio. With about 450 islanders waiting for kidneys, and an average wait of 61 months for an organ, Bailey is constantly looking out for a potential matched trade.
"A couple of others are on the horizon," she said.
For more information about organ donations, call 547-6228.