By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Christine Schneider, 43, of Hermosa Beach likes to go out, see friends and do fun things with her son — things that most people take for granted. But until recently, everyday activities like that were out of reach because she was in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
She had lost her husband, Doug, in a dirt bike accident last November and was determined that their son, Dylan, would not become an orphan. Diagnosed with lupus in her teens, she received a kidney transplant from her brother Jeff in 2001. For more than two years, she has endured hours of dialysis daily and was frequently bedridden or hospitalized.
Thanks to support from family and friends, one of whom became her kidney donor, Schneider’s situation has improved dramatically. The donor is Sally Halpin, 54, Schneider’s ex-sister-in-law, who was married to Doug’s brother several years ago.
“After Doug died, my girlfriends decided they needed to get my story out,” Schneider recalled in an email interview. “They set up the initial Daily Breeze article about my situation and need for a kidney. Once that article came out, we were overwhelmed by the response. I can’t tell you the exact number of people that inquired about donation, but it was substantial.”
A “Kidney4Christine” page was launched on the website YouCaring to find a donor and raise funds for medical expenses. More than $30,000 was raised, $5,000 over the goal.
“Cedars was able to begin the matching process with up to five people at a time,” Schneider said. “That is due to cost and also to expedite the process. There is quite a bit to do before donating a kidney and it’s to make sure that the donor is a willing participant and is extremely healthy. Sally was the first one to complete the workup and compatibility tests. We found out that she was a really great match, so good that we all decided to move forward with her.”
Schneider had lost touch with Halpin, who lives in Rhode Island. “We reconnected when Sally came out for Doug’s service and she found out then that I needed a kidney. She did her own research and then decided it was something she said she ‘needed to do.’ She didn’t tell me that she was getting tested initially. She only told Chris, my mother-in-law. She didn’t want me to be disappointed if she wasn’t a match. However, as she got deep into the process, she told me. I was thrilled and so extremely grateful.”
The surgery — on July 31 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles — went smoothly for both patient and donor, Schneider said. “Sally was able to leave the hospital the day after the surgery. She was able to stay with Doug’s dad, Bill, and my mother-in-law, Chris. They took great care of her and her family. She needed to stay in California for a few weeks after the surgery and was then was able to fly home. She is doing great and feeling back to normal.
“For me, the kidney starting working immediately. I woke up from the surgery and immediately felt great. I didn’t even feel like I had a major surgery. Unfortunately … the kidney was working, but it needed time to start working efficiently. In the beginning I was dumping a bit too much fluid and electrolytes and it was affecting my blood pressure. I ended up in and out of the hospital for several weeks after the transplant.
“But now it seems to be working as it should. During the first six months, the transplant clinic monitors you very closely — appointments going from twice a week, to once a week, then every other week, then monthly. Once you hit that mark, they see you only once a year if everything is going well.”
Nowadays, she said, “I’m feeling good … I feel much more energetic now. It amazing because I didn’t realize how badly I was feeling before the transplant because the decline was so gradual, but I definitely realize now that I feel so good.
“I haven’t been able to go places with Dylan yet because I’m severely immuno-compromised. I had to have several rounds of IV immune therapy medications prior to and after the transplant, as well as several oral medications. This is so my body will not reject the kidney. Right after the transplant, it’s a critical time until the body completely accepts the kidney.
“So for now, I’m able to see people as long as they don’t have infections or colds. Just yesterday I was told that I could finally leave the house, but in public I’m still supposed to wear a mask. I’m so excited to be able to go out and do some fun things with Dylan. He’s excited, too.”
The situation has been difficult for Dylan, who has had to cope with losing his father at the age of 8 as well as his mother’s illness, but he is holding up okay, Schneider said. “I know it was very scary for him when I was in the hospital and we missed each other a lot. We were able to FaceTime each other every day, which was fantastic. He unfortunately wasn’t able to visit me in the hospital because of the risk of infection.”
Another benefit of the transplant is that the Schneiders have become “extremely close” with Halpin, her husband and their two daughters, Schneider said. “We had such a great time with them and consider them our family now. Dylan and the two girls called themselves ‘cousins’ and I feel we will always be close. They also became extremely close to Doug’s dad, stepmom, and sister Erica. We are all planning a trip together in February and we can’t wait to see them again. We also talk at least once a week.”
When Schneider had to stop working, they became a one-income family and had to leave Hermosa Beach, moving in with her parents, Myra and Gary Uyemura, in San Clemente.
Christine and Dylan have recently returned to Hermosa Beach.
“We aren’t in the same house as before, but we are on the same street,” she said. “It’s great to be back! We love Hermosa and are so happy to be back on our old street, where we know the neighbors and feel cared for and loved! We have so much support from Doug’s family and our friends here. My parents also moved close by.”
“Live Like Doug”
Aug. 24 marked her first wedding anniversary without her husband. She posted this message on Facebook: “Thirteen years ago today, I was lucky to marry the love of my life and my best friend. I met Doug at Good Stuff [restaurant] Hermosa Beach in May of ’94. We dated for several years and then got married at the PV Country Club on August 24th, 2002. Together we shared so much, some trials and tribulations, but our love for each other never wavered.
“I thank Doug for teaching me about life, how to be spontaneous, how to love, and most of all how to laugh. He’s always been my strength, my protector, my cheerleader, my best friend, and the most amazing example of what a fantastic, attentive parent should be. I found it hard to get through today, but I also feel so lucky to have had Doug in my life for the time I did.
“His legacy, his lessons, and his love will always be with me and Dylan. I’ll never ever forget what he has blessed me with. I love you, Baby, I miss you! Happy anniversary!”
Doug’s friends have done an “amazing” job of keeping his memories alive, Schneider said. “There have been numerous tournaments and fundraisers that friends have just offered to do. We feel so blessed and it also shows us how much Doug was loved in this community and the positive impact he had on so many people.”
These activities have included a fundraiser by Broza Photo at Waterman’s Grill; donations from entrance fees and T-shirt sales from the Seawright Volleyball Tournament, 4th of July Hermosa Beach Ironman, and 17th Street Labor Day Volleyball Tournament; and donations from the Hangar Grill in Manhattan Beach.
“Even a few of our friends’ kids put together a Live Like Doug lemonade stand and donated the proceeds,” Schneider said. “Our close friend Richard Sundeen also created ‘Right Guy’ hats (one of Doug’s favorite sayings), which are being sold at ET Surf, Boccattos Grocery, and Spyder Surf, and all proceeds are going to Dylan’s education fund. Also, private donations still continue to come into Dylan’s fund.
“It is truly humbling and so special. It definitely relieves stress to know that there is this fund that will help toward Dylan’s education and future.”
Live Like Doug, a nonprofit for children, teens and families that have lost someone they love, will provide local events, grief support programs, community education and outreach so that “children and their families will feel safe, supported and understood during their journey through grief,” Schneider explained. “We will broaden our impact by educating society and various professionals (such as school teachers, principals, health professional, etc.) how to deal with death and grief with compassion, patience, and understanding. Finally, we will offer support programs and fun local activities so children and their families can meet others that are grieving so they won’t feel alone and also have some fun while learning new things.
“Our local events will include things that Doug loved and was passionate about — surfing, volleyball, the beach, skateboarding, the environment (like beach cleanups and hiking), community outreach, mentorship, and having fun and connecting with others. All of this so children and their families know that even after the death of a loved one, it’s okay to smile again, laugh, be active, have fun, and find passions that ultimately lead to personal empowerment for happy and fulfilling lives.”
For more information, go to the “Doug Schneider Memorial Page” on Facebook.
“The most important thing in Doug’s life was Dylan,” Schneider added. “I know that Doug would do anything to protect and help Dylan through his grieving process. Ultimately he would want Dylan to follow in his footsteps and continue to learn new things and find passions that bring joy and connection into his life. He would want Dylan to continue healing and move forward, always remembering him but living a life of happiness, love, laughter, and success.”