A September evening with the United Network of Organ Sharing: Written 10/11/11

Dear Friends:

This blog is long overdue, as it’s already October 7 (no it’s now Oct 12). Where has the time gone? It was my turn to keep writing about our trip to Washington, DC, following our overwhelmingly successful film screening in San Francisco on Sept. 10. Because we had one day before leaving to DC., and then non-stop activities back East, I came home exhausted and needed some time to soak in what really happened. Then, before we knew it, life sped up again, and took me away from blogging. Also I admit I have serious attention deficit problems, so I find myself doing thirty tasks at once, and coming back to this blog now and then to write a little before moving on to something else. Is it me, or just this computer age we live in?

Ana will write about her ups and downs since the September 10th San Francisco screening in a later blog. I am thrilled to say she had recovered from her bowel surgery healthy enough to join us a day after the SF event to fly to Washington DC for a 5 day swirl of activities. Ana, having lost plenty of weight, was on an every-2-hour meal program, drinking Peptamen and other supplements constantly. So many people around me want to lose weight, but sometimes we don’t realize how hard it is to gain weight when you need to. It requires effort, discipline, and funds, which Ana is fortunate to have. Ten days after her discharge, she gained 6 pounds!

So on Sept. 12, Marc, Ana, Andrew and myself flew to DC. With me on my scooter with my precarious foot, we all carried Ana’s bags and she did fine. We stayed at the charming and spacious home of Andrew’s cousin, who generously welcomed us. Folks in the East Coast seem to enjoy very nice homes… but of course I’m generalizing! We had our first meal at a lovely Greek place, which Ana tolerated. Our first stop was to a grocery store to load up on Ana’s high calorie, low residue foods: Ensure, Moon Pies, yogurt and peanut butter.

On Tuesday morning, September 13th, we piled into the van I rented for a 2 ½ hour drive to Richmond, Virginia. The highways were surrounded by forests, and I soaked in the difference between the East and California!

We arrived to a hotel room that was reserved for us, freshened up, and met our wonderful host Lisa S., from the United Network of Organ Sharing. Lisa had prepared lovely gift baskets of goodies from UNOS, including shirts, hats, and pins. Such a warm welcome to the town that was put on my map by this organization. Lisa immediately took us to a lovely restaurant that served classis southern food in an ornately decorated Victorian dining room. Of course, I had gazpacho soup, a crab cake sandwich with coleslaw and sweet tea, and it was scrumptious! In the south, it’s all about the food… We chatted with Lisa and her colleague Mandy, both heads of Public Relations at UNOS, about how they got started and what they do in the community to raise awareness of organ donation. Lisa was a former news anchor and full of energy, passion and connections. What a gift to UNOS and what a gift to us!

We had a few hours to kill after lunch, but Marc and Andrew had to spend time on their laptops putting out some fires related to festivals and screenings (which occur often). Since we heard there were shops and restaurants near the theater, and the hotel shuttle was away for about 45 minutes, we asked the concierge how far was the walk to the Byrd Theater. She said it was half a mile. So I pulled out my scooter, and Ana put on her flip flops, and out we went to walk (well, I went on a roll with my scooter and Ana walked). We passed large homes with porches covered in green vines and iron fences protecting lush gardens. We passed a statue of Jefferson Davis, then Stonewall Jackson, then Robert E. Lee, and we knew we were in the South! In our elementary school books, these guys were villians…) But block after block, our map didn’t show we were any closer. Thankfully it wasn’t in the midst of summer, but it was still hot by our standards and soon we were sweating bullets. This was not half a mile! Close to 5pm we got a frantic call from Marc, who had taken the shuttle to the theater, asking where we were. Poor Ana, just 2 weeks post-GI surgery, was walking as fast as she could to get to the theater in time!

Finally, we ended up at the theater, sweaty, flushed, and with hair in frazzles. Classic Stenzel: in an effort to get exercise, we arrive to this fancy Gala in a mess… We entered the historic Byrd Theater and our eyes gaped open. It was massive, with gorgeous ornamentation and curtains that seemed to reach the Heavens. It smelled of old black and white movies, of people in top hats and canes from the old days. The walls of this theater told many, many stories, and the screen showed many impressive films… and now OURS was screening here!

We rushed to the old bathroom and got ourselves as primped as possible… just as the crowds arrived. Within half an hour, there were over 200 people in the large theater, all of whom we didn’t know! There were people from the community-thanks to Lisa’s PR efforts- staff from UNOS, CF Centers locally, and from the Transplant Games community. The current and former Presidents and CEOs of UNOS attended, and we were so humbled. I was so overwhelmed that we didn’t do any emails to bring people here and yet the floor was quite full. We are so blessed to attract such interest for this film. The Q & A was very good though the details escape me one month later. We sold all 4 of the books we brought, and had warm conversations from many, many people. The evening ended with a dinner at the local bar, making new friends and soaking up the evening.

I was actually stunned by the events of the evening. This was UNOS!! UNITED NETWORK OF ORGAN SHARING!! The national organization that is in charge of ALL of America’s organ donation! In 2008, when Ana and I were on a road trip for our book tour, and were driving from Chicago to Norfolk, we casually went over a freeway overpass through Richmond, when suddenly we saw a tall building with the unquestionable blue and green logo of UNOS. We started screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” and actually got teary-eyed, as this was the place where fair rules are debated, computers are programmed, experts are consulted, calls are made, organs are matched, and lives are saved! At the time, we impulsively called Cathy Olmo at California Transplant Donor Network to tell her we were passing UNOS, because CTDN was all we knew of organ donation. And, a few months later I was asked to serve on the Patient Affairs Committee, and made 6 semi-annual visits to Chicago since then. Now, I serve on the Ethics Committee, debating the very rules that allow foreigners like my Japanese friends to come to the USA to receive our organs. After the festivities ended on Sept. 13, in my calm thoughts at night, it hit me how fortunate I am—that just by writing a book and telling a story, this national organization recognizes the importance of a film that tells our story, and tells the story of the Japanese and so many other Americans who are featured in the film. Having UNOS mobilize their own community to attend our film screening was one of the greatest honors of my life. Thank you, UNOS.

I will stop writing now, to soak in the privilege of this evening with UNOS. I’ll write more about the other DC events later.

Thanks for being such faithful followers of our journey. We are sometimes so busy that we can’t always reach out to you individually, and am perplexed why so many people are so interested in our normal lives. I truly appreciate your support.

I wish you all a wonderful week,

Isa

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