An Uplifting Story

If you live long enough, you are likely to have an experience that is life-altering. Right now, there are two families living on the Big Island living out just such an experience; and it started out with a casual conversation between two mothers who are involved with their sons’ softball team.

Angie Toma, a scorekeeper for her son’s team, and Leanne Hirata, the coach’s wife, were in the press box one day when Angie happened to mention to Leanne that she has had three kidneys from birth. As it turned out, Leanne’s husband, Gregg, has experienced a deteriorating kidney for 20 years. Although he looks healthy, Gregg is gravely ill with kidneys that are only functioning at 11%. He is in need of a kidney transplant.

Angie thought it over and decided to donate one of her kidneys to Gregg (Leanne and Gregg’s father were ineligible to donate for a variety of reasons). Since following through on her initial decision, Angie learned that two of her kidneys had grown together, so she only has two kidneys, rather than three. Undeterred, Angie continued with the medical process and expects to donate her kidney when medical procedures are complete. For Gregg, Angie’s generosity means he will be there for his wife and three young boys, with a healthy kidney and a new lease on life.


Not everyone is so fortunate. In Hawai‘i, approximately 400 people are on the waiting list for a new kidney. The supply of healthy kidneys is not sufficient to fill the need. And many patients pass away before a matching donor can be located. In the past decade, the number of patients waiting for a transplant has doubled, while the number of transplants has remained level. The need tends to increase because people are generally living longer, putting additional stress on their organs. Younger people, like Gregg, and children are also on the list. There have been approximately 1,200 transplants performed in Hawai‘i since 1988, most of them performed by the medical team currently residing at The Queens Medical Center.

Organ transplantation in Hawai‘i has been a reality since 1969, when Dr. Livingston Wong performed Hawai‘i’s first kidney transplant. He put together a team of doctors who pioneered the procedure at St. Francis Transplant Center, and later Hawai‘i Medical Center. When the latter closed its doors about a year ago, Hawai‘i was left with no facility for transplantation until The Queen’s Medical Center came forward to fill the gap. The new center is home to physicians and staff with over 20 years of experience in transplantation, including Drs. Whitney Limm and Linda Wong (daughter of Livingston Wong).


The National Kidney Foundation of Hawai‘i’s mission includes improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by kidney and urinary tract diseases, and to increase the availability of all organs and tissue for transplantation in Hawai‘i. Among their programs is a mentoring program of one-on-one help for dialysis and transplant patients. Recently, we have assisted in the creation of a new Council of NKFH known as the Hawai‘i Organ Transplant (H.O.T.) Support Group, whose mission is to improve the support for, and education of, people who’ve had or who are in the process of organ transplantation procedure through educational events and mentorship programs. The support group consist of people who are organ donors, recipients and others who are interested in transplantation.

Our hope is that organizations like NKFH and H.O.T. will help grow awareness of the need for healthy donors and encourage kidney patients who experience this life-giving process. Our hope is for even more stories like Gregg and Angie’s.

If you are interested or have questions relating to organ transplantation, you can reach NKFH at 808-593-1515, H.O.T. at 808-589-5965, or The Queen’s Transplant Center at 808-691-8897.

National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii
1314 South King St., #304, Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96814