February 14th is Valentine’s Day, but it is also National Organ Donor Day. It’s a day to raise awareness about the lives that can be saved by organ donations.
Local mother Jennifer Kaawa and her son Keau know the importance of organ donation first hand.
Keau was born with chronic kidney disease.
“We always knew that he needed a transplant,” Keau’s mom said.
By the time he was in high school, Keau had stage three kidney failure.
Dr. Amudha Palanisamy is a Transplant Nephrologist at the Queen’s Medical Center. She explained what kidney failure means.
“Kidney failure means that your kidneys are no longer able to clear the blood of toxins,” Dr. Palanisamy said. “People might feel no appetite, a metal taste in their mouth, and overall just crumby and fatigued,” she added about the symptoms of kidney failure.
When Keau turned 25-years-old, doctors said the need for a kidney transplant was imminent.
“They said it would fail within the year,” Jennifer Kaawa said about her son’s kidney.
At the Queen’s Medical Center, there are currently 272 people on the wait list for a kidney transplant, and the waiting period is a long time.
“It varies by blood type, but on average it’s about 4 or 5 years,” Dr. Palanisamy said about how long patients typically have to wait for a kidney transplant.
Keau couldn’t wait five years for transplant. He needed a new kidney as soon as possible or he would be put on dialysis.
“No question about it,” Keau’s mom said. “If I was a match, I was going to do it,” she added.
Several family members stepped in to get tested to see if they would be a match for Keau. It turns out, his mom Jennifer was the only match.
“It was a lot of doctors appointments. Everything that he had to go through, I had to go through,” Kaawa said about the living donor process.
In May 2019, Keau got one of his mom’s kidneys.
“He’s healthier. His color is back. He gained 30 lbs. He was underweight before, so now he’s perfect. He has an appetite,” Jennifer Kaawa said about how the transplant has helped her son.
Doctors say Keau’s mom save his life, and others can potentially do the same by registering at the DMV to be a designated donor.
“You certainly cannot take your organs with you, but you can save multiple lives by being a designated donor,” Dr. Palanisamy said about the benefits of being a donor.
For the Kaawas, this Valentine’s Day is so much more than receiving flowers. It’s about enjoying the gift of life.
“After going through this, it was to me a piece of cake, and if I could do it again, I would… for anybody because it’s saving a life,” Jennifer Kaawa said.