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Linked for life through their kidneys


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POSTED: Thursday, March 11, 2010

For more than 15 years, medical hope for House Clerk Pat Mau-Shimizu was sitting next to her on the House floor — C.J. Leong, House assistant clerk.

Mau-Shimizu, 57, is an attorney and 23-year veteran of the Legislature. She also suffers from diabetes and had chronic kidney disease that progressed to the severe stage.

"In the beginning stages, there are no symptoms, there is no pain, and that is why testing is so important," Mau-Shimizu said. It progressed to a point where Mau-Shimizu was constantly tired, on a limited diet and starting to have severe side effects.

Her doctors told her she had to go to classes at Hawaii Medical Center-East to learn about treatment and to explore options.

Mau-Shimizu opted for a kidney transplant, but the choices were limited. Her brother could not donate, and she didn't want her daughter to.

Leong offered to drive Mau-Shimizu to the classes.

"I knew it could be kind of nerve-wracking," said Leong, 52, also a two-decade legislative veteran. "Part of the workshops were about finding donors."

Her curiosity piqued, Leong contacted the transplant coordinator without telling Mau-Shimizu and asked for information about becoming a kidney donor.

"The odds of us being a match were remote, but I wanted to give it a try," says Leong, who is of Chinese, Japanese and Hawaiian descent. Mau-Shimizu is Chinese.

Working in their favor was the fact that their blood type matched and they were roughly the same age.

After the Legislature ended in 2009, Leong decided to volunteer to be a donor and started a process of screening and counseling.

"They won't take just any old kidney," Leong said. "They want to make sure it is healthy."

After getting a complete physical and even going thorough discussions with a social worker and a psychologist, Leong was declared a match and ready to help Mau-Shimizu.

"It was in August that I got the call. All along the way every person asked me, 'Why are you doing this? What is your relationship to the patient?'"

Leong explained that although she was Mau-Shimizu's assistant, both were independently appointed by the House speaker and then confirmed by the 51 House members.

"You could noticeably see them relax. They didn't have to worry about coercion," Leong said.

All that was left to do was tell Mau-Shimizu that she had a kidney to give her a new life.

Leong was low-key, saying she didn't want to get Mau-Shimizu's hopes up, because there was always a chance of rejection.

"When she first told me about it, I first didn't believe it, and then on the way home I was passing Holy Trinity Church in Aina Haina and I just started crying and it had sunk in that now it was a go," Mau-Shimizu said.

The operations were held in September, almost exactly one year from when Leong and Mau-Shimizu attended the first class.

There have been no complications.

Mau-Shimizu takes medicine to prevent rejection of the new kidney. Leong gets a checkup every three months and finds that giving her kidney gave her a new family.

"My mother and father are telling everybody they have another daughter, and when I saw her father last week, he asked, 'How's my hanai daughter?'" Mau-Shimizu said.

"For someone thinking about it, I would say get the information, educate yourself," Leong said. "It costs you a little discomfort, but the gratification in seeing the recipient have a better quality of life is priceless."

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Free kidney screenings at Capitol event

The local office of the National Kidney Foundation is sponsoring a special "Kidney Day" at the state Capitol from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

There will be free kidney screenings and other events.

"Most people with kidney disease are not diagnosed until late in the course of illness when there are few opportunities for prevention," says Glen Hayashida, National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii chief executive officer.

"There will be cooking demos, free screenings and entertainment at the Capitol, all in an effort to keep our neighbors alive," says state Rep. Glenn Wakai.

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Star-Bulletin staff