A Big Island boy who was injured last year provided the gift of life to two recipients
Story By Rob Shikina (April 10, 2011 Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Bronson “Duke” De Rego was 14 last year when he fell off a golf cart on the Big Island and suffered injuries that would end his young life.
He was flown to Honolulu, where doctors said they would have to take him off life support, something his father, Lamar, couldn’t bear. But that changed when the nonprofit Legacy of Life Hawaii suggested letting his son become an organ donor, which meant doctors would keep De Rego on life support to preserve his organs until they could be taken out for recipients.
“It came together where we didn’t have to pull the plug, where Duke could live,” Lamar told two recipients of De Rego’s organs after meeting them for the first time yesterday.
The two recipients, Jerry Brown, 65, and Junior Eder, 46, hugged each member of the De Rego family at Koolau Golf Club during an event organized by Legacy of Life Hawaii.
“He didn’t die in vain,” said De Rego’s weeping older sister Ululii Sunsano. “We didn’t have to say bye. We know you’re fathers. (Your family) didn’t have to say bye, too.”
The event was part of Organ Donor Month in Hawaii.
The family of another donor, Elizabeth “Liz” Sutherland, also met two Hawaii men who were the recipients of her organs.
Barbara Southern, marketing director of the nonprofit, which recovers organs for transplants, said that for people with end-stage organ failure, the only treatment is an organ transplant. The operation can improve their quality of life and extend their lives by decades.
She said about 400 people in Hawaii are waiting for an organ transplant and that many will die because not enough organs are available. Organ donation can be also a miracle for both parties, she said.
“There’s that joy in the family that’s so important,” she said. “It’s life-giving.”
The De Rego family, who traveled from Waimea, found solace in meeting the men whose lives were changed by their son, especially after losing a second son six years ago. Duke De Rego’s older brother Alex, who was only 12 at the time, fell into the ocean while fishing and was never found.
Duke was the “jewel of our family,” Shirley De Rego said. He was a freshman at Honokaa High School and a football and baseball player who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 245 pounds.
At his funeral, where 1,500 people showed up, one woman approached Lamar De Rego to say his son, who didn’t know her, had helped carry her groceries to her car one day.
“He always wanted to help people,” Lamar De Rego said.
Duke’s kidney changed the life of Eder, who used to go through five hours of dialysis three days a week but now doesn’t need any. Duke’s liver replaced Brown’s, which had a tumor and led to uncontrollable itchiness and other bizarre reactions.
Both men also had stories about how Duke touched them in other ways.
Before the transplant, Eder couldn’t eat fish, but developed a taste for it afterward, which he attributed to Duke, who loved fish.
“God promised me a miracle, and you both are the miracle he promised me,” Shirley De Rego said in tears. “He was my baby and I miss him dearly. We’re just so blessed that he can live on.”
Debbie Motzkin, whose sister Liz, 49, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm while horseback riding on Maui in 2009, came from Arizona to meet two men her sister helped with a kidney and liver.
The family was surprised that her sister had registered as an organ donor, but agreed to follow her wishes.
It was hard on her mother, who had to say goodbye to her daughter, who was still on life support.
“It unsettled her a bit,” Motzkin said, but added, “It’s wonderful to see her live on.”
She met Jared Lum of Hawaii Kai, who received a kidney, and George How of Mililani, who received her liver.
“My family has just grown exponentially,” she said.
Visit www.legacyoflifehawaii.org for details, or to register as a donor.