JULY 15, 2017

A Connected Pair: From Despair to Repair

by Glenn WAKAI

14-year-old Cyehnna Lasconia is overflowing with energy and has an infectious grin. There are plenty of smiles on this day because her best friend 27-year-old Christopher Castillo is joining her for lunch.

The diminutive freshman at Campbell High School has her parents and brother by her side, but all her attention is on Castillo. Their

friendship is deep – from their souls to their kidneys.

Cyehnna contracted E. coli, a day after being born at Kapiolani Hospital. The infection attacked her intestines first and then her kidneys. She suffered numerous seizures. The doctors didn’t know if Cyehnna was going to make it. After a month and a half she was healthy enough to go home.

That was her first triumph over tragedy. The next would materialize 13 years later.

By age 9, Cyehnna found herself often thirsty and feeling cold. It was an indication that her kidney function was deteriorating. She was placed on the organ donor list. Cyehnna needed someone with rare type B blood. No match was found for four years and the teenager ascended to number one on the transplant list. Without a savior, she was facing a life on dialysis. 

Her mom Lani says “Cyehnna is short for her age and we were trying to get her a transplant before puberty so it would improve her chances to grow normally.”

In March of 2016, the Lasconia’s were at a family gathering. One of their relatives brought Castillo to the party. At that time, he was just coming off a disappointing experience of attempting to donate bone marrow to a child. That child passed before the surgery could be performed. The night of the party, Lani mentioned her daughter’s condition. Castillo shifted gears and pledged he would help.

“I didn’t know how to react,” says Lani, “I was so excited but at the same time, I was thinking this guy is so nuts.”

Castillo reached out to a coordinator at the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii and began the process of getting blood work done. “A week later, they called to say I was a match,” says Castillo, “I did a lot of research on transplants before undergoing psychological tests at the Stanford University Hospital last September. They want to make sure you’re donating for the right reasons.”

Castillo is a music teacher at Waianae Elementary and turned his mission into a lesson for his students, “I teach my kids to make the world a better place. What better way to show that commitment, than to do this?”

The donation also prompted Castillo to change his own lifestyle. As a college student, he weighed more than 300 pounds. He was on the path to type 2 diabetes. Last summer he started to hit the gym twice a day, turned into an avid runner, and began eating more vegetables. By the end of 2016 he brought his weight down to 198 pounds.

“Knowing a part of my body would be in someone else, I wanted to make sure I kept my kidneys in good shape,” says Castillo.

The Lasconias and Castillo flew to Palo Alto this past January. Cyehnna knew what was about to happen. Lani did her best to comfort her daughter, “She said mom I am scared, what are they going to do? I told her they are going to cut her open and put Chris’ kidney in her to make her better.”

The surgery was a success and the next day Castillo was on his feet. Everything also went well for Cyehnna who stayed for another 10 days for observations.

“Before her skin was always dry,” says Lani, “Two weeks later her skin color was much better and smoother and her weight was up.”

  Castillo returned home and two weeks later was in the Great Aloha Run. The donation was a life changer for two lives. “It makes me feel great to have donated my kidney. There’s a lot of people on that organ donor list struggling every day,” says Castillo, “I feel that giving up a kidney is not something everyone should do, but everyone can do.”

A handful of people have approached Castillo about the experience. He reassured them that giving up a kidney does not mean diminishing the quality of your own life. “It feels good to help someone else. It starts with a conversation. I hope others will look into how they can enhance lives,” says Castillo, “It’s so surreal, knowing a part of my body is in Cyehnna. Having her in a better condition is all you could ask for. It’s the best outcome for her.”

Castillo and Cyehnna are both third generation Filipinos in Hawaii. His grandparents left Cebu to work in Hawaii’s plantations. A pair of Cyehnna’s grandparents emigrated from Cebu, the other pair hailed from Ilocos Norte.

Cyehnna continues to enjoy listening to music, dancing, playing board games with her family, and going to the beach with her four siblings.

As Castillo and Cyehnna talk about getting ice cream, Lani glances in their direction and holds back tears. She says: “The outcome is so positive. It’s given Cyehnna new life and bonded the two. Every day she asks where’s Uncle Chris?”

The pair are now inseparable in body and spirit. Castillo’s incredible gift has given Cyehnna an opportunity to live a full life and to chase her dreams.

© 2008-2017 Hawaii Filipino Chronicle Inc.