HONOLULU (KHON2) — April is National Donate Life Month. It is a time to raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donations.

Wayne Kaululaau, of Oahu understands how critical organ donors are ever since one of them saved his life.

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Kaululaau never thought he would be forced to be on dialysis.

“Not eating healthy, not taking care of myself, which basically caused the kidney to fail,” Kaululaau said about how he came to the point of needing a a new kidney.

Kaululaau’s only option was dialysis while he waited for a kidney donor.

“So when I was on dialysis, you know, you’d have to spend four and a half hours, Monday, Wednesday, Fridays,” Kaululaau said about how tiring dialysis can be.

Kaululaau was on dialysis for four years. It was a tough and exhausting treatment for his kidney disease.

“When I was on dialysis, obviously there was, you know, some times that I’d have headaches. I’d be more tired during the day. The color of my skin would look a little different,” he said about some of the side effects he’d experience from dialysis.

Kaululaau is no longer on dialysis, thanks to his good friend, Harris Nakamoto.

“Giving the gift of life beyond a relative, beyond a friend, beyond going there really is… shares the aloha spirit,” Nakamoto said about why he wanted to donate his kidney to Kaululaau.

Kaululaau was initially hesitant to accept Nakamoto’s offer because he knew that surgery was no small gift.

“I felt it was a burden on his part to be doing that,” Kaululaau said.

Kaululaau eventually accepted and was looking forward to having a second chance at life.

The surgery was scheduled for April 2020, but then COVID-19 hit the islands and living donor transplantations were paused.

“Unfortunately, as so many things in our lives have been affected by the COVID pandemic, it also happened to really throw a monkey wrench in transplantation,” said Dr. Jon Yamaguchi, a general transplant surgeon at the Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.

The surgery was successful on January 18, 2021, after months of more waiting.

“Life is just totally different. I can wake up early in the morning without having any pains and headaches,” Kaululaau said about how he feels today.

Dr. Yamaguchi says there are roughly 400 other people like Kaululaau currently waiting for a kidney donor in Hawaii.

“There is much much more need for transplantation then there are suitable donor organs,” Dr. Yamaguchi said.

The decision for Nakamoto to undergo surgery and donate his kidney was easy.

“I don’t want him to feel like he owes me anything. For me, it’s just from afar. If I can help an individual, and I can watch the greatness of things, then I’m happy,” Nakamoto said.

Kaululaau is forever grateful to Nakamoto for giving him the gift of life.

“I mean it’s not an easy choice to say that you know, ‘I’m going to give you my kidney,'” he said. “I thank him. I appreciate him and it’s wonderful what he did,” Kaululaau said.

Dr. Yamaguchi says the financial costs that are not covered by the recipient’s insurance can be a big deterrent for potential donors.

The Queen’s Medical Center has a program that will cover the gap to help with that issue. It will reimburse living donors for lost wages and things like travel and lodging. To learn more about the program, click here.