By Hamil R. Harris and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 20, 2009
D.C. Council member Marion Barry and the 47-year-old woman who is giving him a kidney will be operated on in adjacent surgical suites at Howard University Hospital this afternoon. The surgery is expected to last six hours and, in anticipation of a successful procedure, the 72-year-old Barry has scheduled a news conference tomorrow to discuss it.
Barry has been on dialysis for nearly three months, and the transplant is the latest personal battle for the former mayor, whose private life and public persona have melded into one during nearly four decades in politics. He disclosed his latest illness last week as he sparred with prosecutors who are again seeking to jail him for not filing his 2007 taxes on time.
Although the wait for a new kidney can take years, Barry joined a growing trend in the transplant field by finding a donor. The scheduled surgery evoked sympathy among constituents in Ward 8, the community east of the Anacostia River that helped Barry stage another comeback in 2006, when he was elected to the council. He was reelected to the seat in November.
The surgery is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
"I'm on a waiting list myself, and from personal experience, I'm happy for him," said Ward 8 resident Charles Martin, 48, a diabetic also in need of a kidney transplant. He had just returned from dialysis on Alabama Avenue in Barry's ward.
There was plenty of skepticism when Barry disclosed his kidney troubles to WUSA (Channel 9) after federal prosecutors asked a judge to jail him for violating his 2006 probation for previous tax offenses because he failed to file his 2007 tax returns in a timely manner. The former mayor said his illness, possibly brought on by diabetes and hypertension, distracted him from filing his overdue taxes. Barry has since filed his taxes, and no hearing has been set on the case for violating his probation.
More than 1,600 people in the region are awaiting kidney transplants said Cindy Speas, director of Community Affairs for the Washington Regional Transplant Community. About 15 percent of all kidneys transplanted last year went to someone 65 or older, she said. In most cases, the donors died and donated their organs, but donations by friends are rising. The name of the donor to Barry has not been disclosed, but a spokesman said she would attend tomorrow's news conference.
"This is a wonderful act, now more than ever, because the waiting list for a kidney is about five years," said Clive O. Callender, founder and director of the hospital's transplant center, who will operate on Barry. "I think that a second chance at life is a tremendous gift."
Kidney transplants have become fairly routine, with nearly 12,000 performed nationwide last year. A major function of the kidneys is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body. Experts said that for patients older than 70, the chance of survival is greater with a new kidney than with continued dialysis. But the procedure is not without risk.
"The complications that people are worried about are infection where they make the incision," said John Roberts, professor of surgery at the University of California at San Francisco and president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.
Gabriel Danovitch, medical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at the UCLA Medical Center, said age is not a huge factor. "There are 72-year-old people running marathons," he said, "and there are 72-year-olds in very bad shape."
Barry survived a gunshot in 1977 when Hanafi Muslim terrorists seized the John A. Wilson Building. He battled prostate cancer in the 1990s. Bouncing back has also been a theme of his political career. After his 1990 drug arrest, he won a council seat in 1992 after he was released from prison. Two years later, he won his fourth term as mayor.
Barry is chairman of the council's Committee on Housing and Workforce Development and has the option of naming an acting chairman for its next oversight hearing Thursday. But Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said Barry's colleagues expect him to return to work soon.
"He thinks it won't be a protracted period, meaning no more than a couple of weeks," Gray said. "Knowing him, he'll watch it on TV, he'll send in questions, he'll be reading stuff in the hospital and be actively involved."
Cora Masters Barry, Barry's estranged wife, said he had a positive attitude as he entered the hospital yesterday. "He's hopeful and optimistic, and I take my cue from him," said Masters Barry, who maintains a close relationship with him.
The council member's surgery caps more than a week of legal troubles involving a 2005 guilty plea to two misdemeanor tax violations for failing to file federal and D.C. returns from 1999 through 2004.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson sentenced him to three years of probation, which expire next month. Prosecutors asked the judge to jail Barry in 2007 for failing to file his 2005 taxes on time. But Robinson rejected the request because the government did not prove that Barry "willfully" failed to file the tax returns.
Prosecutors recently asked Robinson to jail Barry for not filing his 2007 returns. He has since filed them.
"I'm still for him despite the tax thing," said Jean Walker, 87, owner of a day-care center in Ward 8. Barry held a meeting in her home during his first mayoral bid in the 1970s. "He's done good for the neighborhoods around here."
Staff writer David Betancourt contributed to this report.