WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -- The Kennedy Center is filled with the music and dance of the San Francisco Ballet this week, as the company presents the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet.
Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser has a story of love and generosity of his own to to tell. It involves his sister Susan, whose childhood in the 1960's was interrupted by type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed at age 10, at a time when controlling the disease was not nearly as well understood as it is today.
"Now, young people are much more controlled about their blood sugar levels than they were back then," Kaiser says. "She had suffered from all of the side effects many young people with diabetes get, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure."
By her thirties, Susan was on peritoneal dialysis, a type of dialysis that is done daily at home. After a debilitating stroke, her family began exploring the possibility of a transplant from a living donor.
Her brother turned out to be a strong match, and he says giving that kidney to Susan was an easy decision that still makes him smile today.
Kaiser says, "It was March 30th of 1988, and it was an amazing day. She felt better in the recovery room. She was sitting up and smiling. She said for the first time in years, her blood was being cleaned and she felt healthy."
Susan went on to found a pre-school for disadvantaged children and lead a full and vibrant life for two more decades, until her body finally succumbed to the ravages of diabetes in 2009.
Kaiser says, "She had 22 more years, which was really a miracle. For those 22 years, she worked and played golf, she ran her school and enjoyed her friends. She had a regular life for those 22 years, which she would not have had without kidney donation."
Kaiser himself is active and healthy to this day, and encourages more people to strongly consider donation.
He says, "Doing kidney transplants is something we need to think about, not as a great sacrifice, but as an honor and a fun project. It was great."
Michael Kaiser will be honored this Saturday at the National Kidney Foundation's Kidney Ball, which raises money for research and patients services, greatly needed in our region. The Washington D.C. area has the highest prevalence of kidney disease in the nation, with more than 700,000 people affected, nearly 6,000 on dialysis, and more than 1,500 waiting for a transplant.
By Anita Brikman, WUSA9 and WUSA9.com