Transplant recipient glad to be alive

Lifesaving operation believed to be a first for Kaua’i

When Sarah Moore was seven years old and growing up in California, she found out she had inherited diabetes from her mother.

Since then, Moore has searched for ways to stay alive by beating her disorder.

For Moore, now 43 years old and a resident of Kapa’a, that has meant taking insulin shots for 38 years, sticking to a healthy diet, exercising regularly, plus undergoing hemodialysis surgery and dialysis treatment on Kaua’i for the past 2 1/2 years.

But Moore said her actions were only interim measures to help her stay alive while she looked for the real solution.

The solution came on Jan. 8 when she received a new kidney and pancreas through a life-saving, donor-organ transplant surgery done at the St. Francis Transplant Institute on O’ahu.

Moore is believed to be the first person from Kaua’i to have had a kidney failure healed through a successful kidney and pancreas organ transplant operation.

The Kapa’a woman is still fragile seven weeks after the major operation. She takes medication, like clockwork, to ensure the new organs are not rejected by her body, and to build up her strength.

At times, she wears a mask to fend off germs and development of infections.

Moore, a property owner, says her biggest moral booster has been Victor Bailey, a 53-year-old in-house caregiver. Bailey, a 35-year resident of Kaua’i, is a former jeweler and a musician.

Moore developed diabetes as a child growing up in Southern California. She said she was 17 years old when her mother died from kidney failure at age 53. Diabetes runs rampant in her family and she is the only surviving member.

Diabetes is a disorder caused by a pituitary deficiency and is characterized by heavy discharge of urine and intense thirst. A form of diabetes involves an insulin deficiency and is characterized by an excess of sugar in the blood and urine and by hunger, thirst and weight loss.

Moore said she has been able to live diabetes because she has taken insulin shots for so many years, has maintain a healthy diet, has exercised and has educated herself about disabilities and how to live with it.

Moore said she also has stayed away from consuming sugar and alcohol, which can degrade the kidney.

In spite of the healthy regimen, she underwent 14 surgeries to keep her kidneys functional prior to the transplant operation. She also has had eye surgeries and has experienced liver failure.

Bailey said Moore’s worst nightmare came true in 2000 when doctors at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihu’e told her that her kidneys had shut down, worn down by diabetes.

Kidneys separate water and waste products from the blood and excrete them through the bladder.

On the advice of the late Butch Kekahu, an Hawaiian activist from Anahola who also had been treated for diabetes before succumbing to it in December 2001, Moore said she chose hemodialysis surgery to clean impurities from her blood.

Moore went through several operations at the UCLA Medical Center and at Straub Clinic and Hospital before the insertion of an artificial vein was successful, allowing for the cleaning of her blood without kidneys.

Between 2000 and 2001, Moore underwent treatment at the St. Francis Dialysis Satellite center on Kaua’i. Moore was grateful for the treatment but was intimated by it as well.

She went for treatment three times a week, four hours each time. “You have to sit there with these big needles in your arm,” Moore said. At the same time, she had to continue taking insulin shots.

She also began losing weight because of the treatment requirements, which she said barred her from eating fruits and vegetables.

Moore said her weight dropped from 150 ponds in 1997 to 120 pounds before her organ transplant surgery.

“She was wasting away,” her caregiver Bailey said.

Last November she was put on an organ transplant list at the O’ahu hospital, and on the evening of Jan. 7, 2003 she got a call from hospital officials that donor organs were available and that her surgery would take place the next day.

“I was really surprised. I was ready to just sit and wait for a few years and go through the dialysis treatment,” she said.

Such operations are sometimes long in coming because of the unavailability of organs or because the blood types between the donor and recipients are not immediately matched.

Bailey said Moore was picked so quickly because “she is young, her heart is good and her blood type (AB) matched that of the donor.”

Moore said she and Bailey got on the first flight to O’ahu the morning of Jan. 8, and went to the hospital for a five-hour surgery.

For her surgery, a kidney and pancreas were taken from a cadaver donor, who had saved two other lives, Moore said.

The donor’s liver and a kidney also were given to two other donor recipients at the O’ahu hospital.

Moore said she was not given the identity of the donor, but thanked the family for having donated his organs to save lives.

“I am eternally grateful,” she said. “I just cry when I think about the kind of gift they have given me.”

Following the operation, she and Moore spent five weeks on O’ahu for recuperation and instructions on the taking of medication.

Moore said she believed the operation cost about $240,000, all covered by Medicaid and Medicare.

She was ready to go home one day when she unexpectantly became violently ill. With the help of Bailey, Moore was transported by ambulance to the emergency room at the O’ahu hospital.

Moore speculated Moore’s body was rejecting the new organs. The doctors spent most of the day trying to figure out what the problem was, Moore said.

“It was scary, because they were trying to decide whether I was going to make it or not,” Moore said.

It was only after the doctors reduced the dosage of her medication that her condition improved.

Bailey and Moore returned to Kaua’i on Valentines Day.

To help with her recovery, Moore takes all types of medication daily, including Prograf, which helps prevents the body’s rejection of the organs, Celcept, which kills infections, Prednisone, which speeds up her metabolism to keep her new kidney functioning and to become stronger, Valcyte, to prevent eye infection, and Diflucan, to prevent fungi infections.

For at least a year, Moore will have to wear a mask to prevent exposure to germs. She also has to avoid getting cuts to avoid possible infections.

Moore said she wasn’t initially sure the transplant operation was the best way to go.

She didn’t particularly care for the idea of having to take pills the rest of her life and was worried some could have side effects that could diminish her health. Moore also was worried about complications that could arise during surgery.

But Moore and Bailey both agree now it was the best route.

“It is a better quality of life for her, to be able to eat and drink and not have to take shots every day for diabetes anymore,” Bailey said. “Her life span may not be increased. But her quality of life has improved.”

Bailey said he and Moore are on a “life” mission together. He said Moore wants to live a long, healthy life and he wants to make that a reality.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@pulitzer.net

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