Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Anthony Young, left, is embraced by Mellie Tanaka,
mother of the man whose kidney he received. Young
and the Tanaka family met for the first time yesterday
at St. Francis Medical Center. The transplant ended
years of routine dialysis for Young, who has diabetes.

Tearful gathering
celebrates life-enriching
gift of a kidney

A Maui couple meets the
man who received their son's
vital organ after a fatal accident

Single donor can help many

By Helen Altonn

Those watching wiped tears from their eyes as Anthony Young walked into the room at St. Francis Medical Center and embraced Kameo and Mellie Tanaka and their son, Kevin.

The Tanakas of Lahaina and Young of Honolulu had not met until yesterday. Yet they share a priceless bond.

Young, 51, is alive because the Tanakas donated the organs of their 31-year-old son Robert (Bobby) after an automobile crash Sept. 12, 1999. He was declared brain-dead Sept. 21.

One of his kidneys went to Young, who underwent transplant surgery Sept. 23, 1999.

Young presented the Tanakas with leis and gifts, and the family gave him a picture of their son. They clasped each other and cried, speaking privately about their feelings. Later, they looked at family albums showing Bobby's growing years and 3-year-old daughter.

"I thank all of you for giving me a second chance at life," Young told the family and some Organ Donor Center of Hawaii and Transplant Institute staff members after the emotional meeting. "I'm never going to forget this."

Young said he learned he had diabetes when he was 25 years old. He lost kidney function and started dialysis June 10, 1997.

He met people who had been going to dialysis three times a week for 20 years, "some younger than me," he said.

He said he was "shocked" when told a kidney was available for him. "I never thought I'd get a kidney in my whole life. I just took it (dialysis) as something I'd have to do my whole life. It's not fun."

Young said he was in town when the hospital called to tell him to get there right away because a kidney was available, so a policeman was sent to his mother's home to convey the message: "Tell your son go straight to St. Francis. Your son get one kidney transplant."

When his mother told him a police officer was looking for him, he said: "What for? I never did anything."

He went to the hospital immediately after hearing about the kidney. The organ was a good match, and he was given a transplant the next day.

"I was fortunate. I was the lucky one," he said. "I wish everybody could see what we have to go through (with dialysis) and how important a donor is. You can get your second life. That's a gift."

Among those touched by the meeting of the Tanakas and Young was Tony Sagayadoro, program coordinator for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, who had a kidney transplant May 15 after a five-year wait.

He said he gives thanks every day for his life because of donors such as the Tanakas. He has not met them yet.

"This is a total example of spiritual healing for both sides," said Donna Pacheco, clinical transplant coordinator. "I wish we could do it all the time."

The Tanakas said they knew nothing about organ donations when their son was hospitalized after a 1:30 a.m. car crash. "Most people think it's not going to happen to you," Kameo Tanaka said. However, he said, Bobby's girlfriend said they had talked about it and that he wanted to be a donor.

A nurse at Maui Memorial Hospital alerted the Organ Donor Center in Honolulu, and two nurses and transplant coordinators, Chris Carroll and Chris Miranda, flew to Maui to talk to the family.

"It was a hard decision," Tanaka said, "but when you think about the 'gift of life,' that really swayed me."

He said their son's heart went to a retired airline pilot in Arizona. The operation was a success but he died of an infection. The liver recipient, an Oahu man, also died from complications.

A 25-year-old man and 15-year-old youth, both of Hawaii, received the corneas. A neighbor island man received the other kidneys.

Young said he tried to write a letter to the Tanakas to thank them for his lifesaving organ but could not find the words. He wanted to see them in person.

The Tanakas had written to Young and also wanted to meet him. "After patiently waiting 18 months," Kameo Tanaka said, the family learned two weeks ago from the Organ Donor Center that a meeting would be arranged.

The Tanakas acclaimed it a "joyful" occasion as they waited for Young to arrive yesterday.

The meeting was delayed about an hour because Young's blood-sugar level fell so low earlier in the morning, he had to go by ambulance to the emergency room.

He said he could not sleep because he was so excited about meeting his donor family. He did not eat much breakfast, and his blood sugar dropped so much after taking insulin that a candy bar, nearly two bottles of soda and liquid glucose did not bring it up.

He called his brother for help and was "on the floor" when he arrived and called the ambulance.

His diabetes usually is under good control, and he is stronger since the transplant, he said. "He's doing fine," said Joyce Nekoba, clinical transplant coordinator.

The Tanakas were among about 65 families attending a donor family memorial service held Sunday at the Kahala Mandarin Hotel by the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii. Most were donor families.

A mass of Monarch butterflies was released as a symbol of hope and renewal of life, said Felicia Wells-Williams, aftercare coordinator for the Organ Donor Center.

"I'm happy with the Hawaii donor organization," Kameo Tanaka said. "They're a first-class outfit."

 | | |

Single donor can help
many needing organs

Star-Bulletin staff

The Organ Donor Center of Hawaii so far this year has had seven donors, including five last month.

The result: 20 organ transplants, 10 tissue donations and 12 eye donations helping 24 recipients.

The waiting list for organs includes 264 for kidneys, two for hearts, 21 for livers, two for a pancreas and two for a kidney and pancreas.

For more information about the donor program, call 599-7630 or, toll-free from the neighbor islands, 877-855-0603.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin