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Hawaii transplant patients celebrate new life at games

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Herbert Endo received a kidney from his daughter, Luci Dwight. With them are grandchildren Kamalei, left, and Makoa Dwight.
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Kidney transplant recipient Herbert Endo, 71, is participating in the U.S. Transplant Games, a biennial sporting event for transplant survivors nationwide. Lucille Dwight, his daughter, was his donor.

There’s a lot 71-year-old Herbert Endo has been able to do since his successful kidney transplant eight years ago.

He can walk, he can run. He still runs his family’s electrical contracting business. He has an OK game of golf, albeit with a high handicap. He can knock back a glass of wine or a couple of beers now and then.

He’s also been able to participate in the biennial U.S. Transplant Games. This year’s event, in Madison, Wis., will be Endo’s fifth.

"Hell, yes," Endo said when asked whether the national sporting event is life-affirming. "You learn a lot just going to the games, talking to the other patients, what medication they take, what medication the doctors have stopped giving them."

The U.S. Transplant Games, an Olympic-style competition, is organized every two years by the National Kidney Foundation. This year the foundation celebrates 60 years and will be holding its 20th Transplant Games.

In 2008, 1,350 transplant athletes from all 50 states attended. More than 1,500 athletes are expected for this year’s competition, which will be held from Friday to Aug. 4.

Participants compete in a number of sporting events, including swimming, golf, table tennis, basketball, badminton, bowling, tennis and volleyball.

"As far as the transplant recipients are concerned, this is their second chance at life," said Glen Hayashida, chief executive officer of the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii, which sponsors the Hawaii athletes.


Hawaii athletes at the U.S. Transplant Games in Madison, Wis., Friday to Aug. 4:

» Herb Endo (track, golf)
» Nilo Fuentes (tennis, table tennis, golf)
» Gary Higa (tennis)
» Les Malala (track, swimming)
» Roy Naguwa (bowling, softball throw, swimming)
» Brianna Roberts (swimming)
» Howard Smith (swimming)
» Ron Sugiyama (track, golf, bowling, swimming)
» DeeDee Tomihama (swimming)
» Rachael Wong (tennis)
» Anna Zimmerman (track, tennis)

Hawaii is sending 11 athletes this year. Hayashida said it costs the foundation about $2,500 per athlete to send them to the games.

The Hawaii chapter has fundraising activities throughout the year to raise the money.

"It’s always a challenge," Hayashida said. "We’ve been able to scale back some of our own expectations and costs, and we’ve met our budget. It’s tight, but at the same time we’re all going."

Endo will be competing in a 5-kilometer walk and will test his swing in individual and team golf.

He remembers when his daughter, Lucille, offered her kidney to him in 2002.

"I was on the verge of dialysis in late 2002, not knowing that my daughter was testing herself during the whole time," he said. "Nobody told me until she had cleared all her tests and interviews. I guess she wanted to make sure she was cleared to go."

Endo said his health was like "night and day" after he received his daughter’s kidney.

When he participated in the 2004 Transplant Games, he barely felt any fatigue. When he walked on the field, his daughter cried tears of joy seeing her father up and able.

"She was so overcome with emotion," said Hayashida, who sat next to Lucille that day. "Just a year earlier (Endo) wasn’t able to walk, and there he was smiling and waving and walking across that field effortlessly. It was really one of those moments where it was just hard to describe."

Endo said he finds his inspiration in other participants and attendees—other kidney transplant survivors, living donors, a woman who survived a heart transplant and is able to climb stairs.

"You look at them today, you couldn’t even dream that they had a transplant," he said.

Endo is no slouch, either. He is still president and treasurer of Jack Endo Electric Inc., started by his father in 1946. His sons do a lot of the footwork, but Endo is still involved in day-to-day operations.

"I can do a full day’s work. I don’t feel fatigue," Endo said. "It’s like before when I first started this job, except for all the extra aches and pains sometimes."

Endo said he’ll be participating for as long as he lives.

"Since it’s every two years, it’s not so bad," Endo said, laughing. "If it was every year, then I dunno."


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