After my first full day in Washington DC with ten members of our film crew, I was on cloud nine. I was amongst the most loving, caring, brilliant, hard working people in the Power of Two team. We all got along beautifully and shared smiles, much laughter and great chemistry. Of course, there were our producers, Marc and Andrew, and the film crew (Matt, Yasu, and Nick) and also our childhood friends Naomi and Jennifer who have now been designated the titles of “International Projects coordinator” and “Associate Producer” respectively. The master-mind of the Washington DC trip was a friend of Andrew’s friend named Dan, who passionately was swept into the Power of Two project with his own interest and heart. Dan coordinated most of the trip, arranging transportation, accommodations, a van rental, and most challenging, he took care of the permits and the details of the who, what, when, where and how to interview key players in Washington DC who had a stake in CF and transplant.
On Friday morning, the film crew, who was staying at the Days Inn on Connecticut Street near the National Zoo, drove their large white rental van to pick up the rest of us at ” Stanford in Washington,” the dorm for Stanford students who were studying in the East. Andrew had arranged a very generous donation of rooms for half of our crew, and we stayed in a luxurious suite apartment which was normally reserved for the University President. In the van, there was an aire of festive energy, and excitement about the day as the ten of us packed in amongst tripods, cameras, lights. We headed to Howard University Hospital where we were scheduled to interview Dr. Clive Callendar, one of the foremost leaders in transplantation medicine, with a particular focus in transplantation in minorities. Dr. Callendar was one of the first African American transplant surgeons, and, now in his seventies, he carried an impressive resume that tired me out just reading it. Dr. Callendar established MOTTEP, the Minority Organ & Tissue Transplant Education Program, a program to help increase awareness about organ donation among minority groups, particularly African Americans who make up a considerable portion of the national organ transplant waiting list, especially kidneys.
As we drove towards Howard University, I was struck by the predominantly middle class African American neighborhoods including interesting architecture, and culturally distinctive shops and restaurants. Once at Howard, I was humbled and so impressed to see such a distinguished hospital with a primarily African American staff and patient population. This struck me as something I don’t observe in the Bay Area, especially the Peninsula, where my observations are one of much more segregation, and economic differences, where African Americans are rarely the majority in professional settings. I could feel the pride and could only imagine the history behind the struggle of African Americans at Howard to become so established in this area.
We met Dr. Callendar and two of his medical students who were on a transplant surgery rotation with him. We learned that Dr. Callendar himself is a twin, and we connected instantly. Dr. Callendar was a distinguished man, with a gentle face and amazingly smooth skin for his age. As Dr. Callendar was swept away into the interview room, we stepped outside the MOTTEP office with the medical students and the rest of our group and hung out while the interview was in process. For over an hour, we spoke to the medical students. They were bright, articulate, friendly, and passionate about medicine and learning from patients. Both were African American, both were children of physicians and both were graduates of prestigious universities. After the interview, we were escorted to the Transplant clinic where we were able to meet Dr. Callendar’s staff. All were African American, except for one other physician who was Hispanic. The clinic primarily coordinates kidney and liver transplants. The group was so welcoming, warm and intrigued by our story and film. As we concluded the morning interview, I was moved by the bond that we shared- regardless of prestige, education or status as a healthcare provider or patient, there was a mutual awareness about the gift of life and the dire need to raise awareness and increase donation, especially among minorities.
Following a wonderful morning interview, we headed towards the Lincoln Memorial where we had obtained a special permit that allowed restricted filming in that area. In 94 degree weather, we walked up and down the steps towards Lincoln’s grand marble statue as the Director of Photography,Nick, followed us with his camera. Sweat was pouring down our brows. The tourists were everywhere. It was a gorgeous day but the humidity made it hard to breathe and I started to be paranoid about my lungs.
After taking a few shots of the reflecting pool and Washington Monument, we sat in the shade until our next scheduled interview. When we had interviewed my donor family in Oregon during the past July fourth weekend (sorry no time to blog about that), they informed me that the pancreas recipient of my donor James, lived in Maryland and worked at Living Legacy, the organ procurement organization of Maryland. Well we found each other on Facebook and arranged a meeting. After coordinating with Dan , she was to meet us at the reflecting pool and was even kind enough to agree for this union to be filmed.
So in the sweltering heat under a line of trees, we walked towards each other, and embraced. Her name was Doni, she was my age and she required a pancreas transplant due to a lifelong history of severe type 1 diabetes. It was wonderful to meet her. She was warm, welcoming, open and amazingly compatible. She was driven , hard working, flexible, and full of smiles. Doni also brought her sister, Liz, so we shared the commonality of having a strong bond with our sisters too. We sat in the grass for an informal interview with the cameras on. At that time, we shared our lives, our stories and an instant connection. In the midst of the interview, a group of geese approached the camera and started to cakkle. Our wonderful Dan began to run towards them, like some kind of frenzied sheep herder, to scare them away from the camera and mics. We hid our laughter in front of this camera as we faced in the distance a distinguished tour manager running around waving his hands as cakkling geese flustered around him. I guess you just had to be there.
The film crew had another interview to rush to, so half of us stayed with Doni and went out to lunch together. The heat was taxing and by the time we got back to the car, I felt like a pretzel, and my ankles were immensely swollen. Marc and the film crew went off the interview someone named Locke. He worked in the Department of Commerce (yes, I too asked what that has to do with transplant) who supposedly had a keen interest in transplantation. I have very little further information to share with you about him. Despite being one of the “key figures” in the Power of Two documentary, isn’t it ironic how out of the loop I am?
We hung out with Doni after lunch in our Stanford dorm room to cool off, waiting for our next engagement- the Power of Two Happy Hour. Despite some heat induced fatigue setting in, we headed by taxi to the Happy Hour, at a restaurant-bar called Churchkey nearby. Let me start by saying I am not a bar hopper. In fact I do not like the atmosphere of crowds, alcohol, expensive greasy food and loud music. These factors are made worse by being immunosuppressed and fearing that every conversation in such a loud place is a shower of spit in close proximity and I prayed I wouldn’t catch another virus. Though early, it was already quite crowded. We reserved a corner of the bar for our happy hour, expecting about 40 supporters of the Power of Two based on an aggressive publicity campaign. All 10 of our crew extended invitations to everyone they knew in the DC area. Amazingly that was a lot of people! The world is small…
Within an hour, we met a number of members of Team Maryland of the US Transplant Games, as well as members of the CF community (including Mary who was 15 years post transplant!), as well as a mix of elementary school friends, Andrew’s and Dan’s friends from political circles,Andrew’s cousin, a few people from Howard, and a reporter named Sonya who coordinates an online celebrity magazine. I met George, a kidney transplant recipient on Team Maryland who had his kidney transplant 35 years ago! We also met a pair of identical twins, Peter and Matt, who were interested in our project. I truly enjoyed greeting and chatting with so many people, despite the atmosphere. After three hours I feared that I would lose my voice from shouting over the music all evening. One of the most intriguing conversations I had that night was with a thirty-something year old guy named Matt, who is Joe Biden’s speech writer. Very impressive. These are the types of people who hang out at bars in DC! After a few hours, poor Naomi had a bad headache and we headed out. Back at the Stanford hotel/dorm we collapsed in our beds- with swollen feet, germ paranoia, and empty stomachs (I didn’t dare eat the bar food after shaking so many people’s hands and forget about even trying to find the bathroom in that place), we ordered a pizza at 10pm and devoured it before sleeping. Not the best thing to do for those of us with acid reflux but WTF … sometimes it’s more important to eat something.
The day was full. My eyes were open to so much magic- meeting Doni ten years after our transplants, being inspired by the work of Dr. Callendar, and connecting with so many people interested in the Power of Two. With the effort of such a large distinguished team with amazing connections and a very active online buzz about the film , it became apparent that night that this story is no longer isolated to a few in California and Japan; this is now knowledge in the circles of government officials, transplant leaders and regular people living on the opposite side of the USA from us. How incredibly humbling, yet so daunting that are lives are getting more and more public! What is going to happen??!!!
Thank you again for being faithful blog readers. May you be blessed with good health and enjoy the cool air of California!