Kidney Walk L.A. and one family’s story

Kidney donor Tom Pesa, with his wife Annmarie and their two sons.

By Brandon HENSLEY

Despite the cold and drizzly weather, over 800 people showed up last Saturday morning at the Rose Bowl for the Inaugural Los Angeles Kidney Walk. After all, most of them had been through much worse before.

Hosted by the National Kidney Foundation, the almost two-mile walk around the stadium was the first event by the foundation in L.A.

Special Events Manager Darcy Calderon said the foundation has had walks in San Diego and Orange County, and will have more in the Santa Barbara area next spring.

Calderon said the goal of the day was to “to increase awareness about kidney disease to the community and really emphasize the importance about early detection and organ donation.”

“I chose the Rose Bowl because not only is it iconic in Southern California, it’s as central as you can get in Los Angeles,” she said. “We had people coming from Ventura. We had even some walkers from San Diego.”

La Crescenta resident Tom Pesa had to travel farther than that this June when he successfully donated his kidney to his father Felix. Pesa, 40, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. He went back to his home state and had the operation at the Cleveland Clinic. To get ready for the operation, Pesa had to better his health by eating the right foods and exercising more. Felix is currently doing well, and by the look of things, so is Pesa.

Pesa said that by the day before the walk, he looked at his online donations and saw that he was the top individual fundraiser for the walk. He also said he, his wife Annmarie and their friend, a group he called “Team Pesa,” was a top fundraising team, with over $5,000 in donations.

“Everybody has a different kidney story that’s involved with the kidney foundation,” said Pesa. “They’re either on dialysis or they’re waiting for a donation. Some are really healthy, and some unfortunately are sick.”

Calderon said the walk raised over $120,000 total, which will go toward kidney research, patient advocacy and public education.

Information areas were set up, and the radio station AMP 97.1 was there to supply the music. Of the 800 participants – over 100 of which were children – many were donors and recipients, including Shad Ireland, a spokesperson for the Fresenius Medical Care Program. Ireland was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease at age 10, and has been competing in walks and triathlons 27 years later.

“He’s very much a patient advocate and goes out there to motivate the kidney community,” Calderon said of Ireland.

In all, the day was about shining a light on kidney awareness, and maybe how it’s been in the shadows compared to other causes.

“There’s a breast cancer walk, there’s AIDS walks, but you’ve never heard of a kidney walk, so it was time for the kidney patients to have their time to shine,” said Calderon.

While Pesa said giving a kidney to his father was “a no-brainer,” he said he’s more impressed by people who donate to others they have never even met.

“I think that’s an even bigger deal there where [it] doesn’t make the decision [easy]. I think when it’s a loved one it makes the decision easy,” Pesa said.

Calderon said what was easy to see how successful the day was. “The Los Angeles community really wrapped their arms around this week and came out in a big way,” she said.

As for Pesa, he just hopes he can be an example for others.

“The world needs more living donors,” he said, “and if you are on the fence about becoming a living donor, I’m at least one story that you can look at that you can have very healthy normal life after donating.”