Cousins Who Couldn't Be Closer

Give up a kidney to keep her 29-year-old cousin alive? No problem. Give up Diet Dr. Pepper to prepare for the transplant surgery? Now that was a real sacrifice. Darlene Navarette found out at an annual New Year's Day family get together at her grandmother's house that her cousin Holly Miyagawa, needed a kidney transplant. Navarette offered hers on the spot. The successful transplant surgery was performed two months later in March of 2000.

"The surgery was a piece of cake," says Navarette, now 46. "But what nearly killed me was that I couldn't have caffeine for two weeks. I don't give up my Dr. Pepper for just anyone!" Miyagawa understood the gravity of Navarette's sacrifice and remains extraordinarily grateful for the gift. "I wish I had other kidneys to donate," Navarette says matter-of-factly. "I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Miyagawa was just 16 and a star athlete - volleyball is her passion - when a nurse noticed she had high blood pressure. It turned out that Miyagawa's kidneys were abnormally small and working at half capacity. The doctor said that at some point she would need a transplant.

Thirteen years later, during a beach volleyball game she felt weak and her legs were swollen. "I had less than five percent kidney function left," she recalls. Her mother and brother were tested (Miyagawa's father died in 1996) as potential donors. Neither was a match. Miyagawa grew so ill she was put on thrice-weekly dialysis. Navarette stepped in to save her life.

Today, Miyagawa, 38, who works in the corporate offices of Skechers and lives in Hermosa Beach, California, is the picture of health. "Kimi's gift has given me a purpose in life and I don't take a minute of it for granted," she says, using Navarette's family nickname. "She gave me my life back!" That life includes playing in two indoor volleyball leagues and participating in the National Kidney Foundation 2008 U.S. Transplant Games , where Miyagawa won gold medals in volleyball and the 100 meter run.

"The Games are a great opportunity to spread the word about organ and tissue donation and transplantation. On a personal level, the Games allow me to continue my athletics - something I thought I'd never get to do again. The Games have also given me a chance to meet and befriend other recipients and to develop a second ‘family.'"

Her cousin flew from Los Angeles to share the experience and the glory. "Funny thing about this trip is my cousin's fear of flying," says Miyagawa. "Kimi didn't hesitate to give me a kidney, yet it took her months to decide if she could get on a plane!" Once again, she rose to the occasion.