2006-06-30 / Community

She Wants Her Own Independence Day

By Brian Magoolaghan

Inez Richardson, right, is waiting for a kidney donor. Mary Alongis, left, has been a friend and cheerleader.Inez Richardson, right, is waiting for a kidney donor. Mary Alongis, left, has been a friend and cheerleader.

Independence Day. It's a time for patriotism, family barbecues and fireworks. But for one Rockaway resident, independence will wait for another day, and her vacation this July Fourth will serve as a reminder.

Inez Richardson, a 57-year-old resident of 84-00 Shore Front Parkway, says her freedom was taken from her nearly 10 years ago, when a combination of prescribed medications she was taking caused an allergic reaction that put her in a coma for two months and permanently damaged her kidneys.

Richardson, who was visiting her daughter in Virginia at the time, would have to relearn how to walk and talk, she told The Wave when we met her last week. She would also begin dialysis because her kidneys no longer removed an adequate amount of waste and fluid from her bloodstream. She began four-hour treatments, three-days a week, which are as disruptive as they are vital. This July Fourth she'll be on vacation, and the nearest dialysis center will be 30 miles away, making it more inconvenient than usual to get the lifesaving treatment.

"If you don't go, you just don't live," she told us matter-of-factly.

Richardson says her independence will come if she can undergo a successful kidney transplant and leave dialysis behind. All she needs a donor, but finding one hasn't been easy. In all, Richardson has taken six people - including her three children - in to see if they were a match. They weren't. Her husband, a well-known handball player, was going to see if he could be the donor, but he died suddenly before his appointment with doctors. And there's another issue: People who have friends or loved ones who need organs are often sympathetic, Richardson says. They even offer to help, but they also worry about giving away something they could need.

"People get cold feet sometimes," Richardson explained.

Richardson is on a waiting list through Mt. Sinai Hospital, but so far she's only had what she calls false alarms. The organs either went to others ahead of her or were damaged. Meanwhile, her dialysis treatment is a regular challenge.

Three days a week, Richardson goes to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, Long Island, for treatment. Because of her five day a week employment at St. John's Residence for Boys in Rockaway Park, dialysis days start at 3 a.m.

Richardson used to go for dialysis at St. John's Episcopal Hospital, but she stopped last July when health inspectors closed the hospital's dialysis unit after finding serious patient safety issues there. The unit was grimy and infested with flies, Richardson recalled. The conditions there, she said, made her break down in tears. SJEH followed a corrective action plan and the unit reopened about four months later, but she said she lost faith. The trip to Oceanside takes longer but her health and peace of mind is more important, she said.

Rising at 3 a.m. and regularly feeling run down is a struggle that Richardson has been dealing with for almost a decade, but she is not without her supporters. Besides her children and coworkers, she has formed a strong friendship with her neighbor, 53-year-old Mary Alongis. The women said they became fast friends when Richardson dropped by to check out repair work done on Alongis' apartment before she moved in. Then, a couple of misdirected delivery packages reintroduced them. A friendship grew, and the women might just be one another's biggest supporters. Alongis says her friend's "attitude is unbelievable."

Alongis also went to be tested to see if she could be a donor. A medical condition eliminated her as a candidate, which is common among prospective donors.

There are more than 5,600 people registered on kidney donation waiting lists in New York State alone, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Wave readers may recall a 2004 story about Kaychelle Smith, a local teenager who was also waiting for a kidney. She had a transplant last year but suffered complications, but her mother, Machelle, told The Wave this week that she's still the "social butterfly" she has always been and recently celebrated her graduation from junior high school. Kaychelle could soon be on another waiting list, and her mother says the wait is so long in New York that she has considered relocating.

The shortage of kidneys - especially for those in need - is a particularly perplexing problem because most people are born with two and can live with only one. Still, Richardson says she isn't sure how to promote organ donations. "I don't know what message it would take to get people to [donate]," Richardson said. "Please sign your [organ donation] card," she said, "you can live with one kidney."

UNOS has lots of information about kidney donation, including a detailed Q&A section for living donors, on its website, www.Kidney.org

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