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Barry's Next Crusade: Organ Donation
Friend Who Gave Councilman a Kidney Says She Is Grateful She Could Help

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 2009

With a goodbye wave to a cheering crowd of medical staff and other well-wishers, D.C. Council member Marion Barry headed home yesterday, one week after getting a kidney transplant at Howard University Hospital.

The 72-year-old former four-term mayor said he is eager to resume his decades-long political career and plans to take up another cause: a campaign for organ donations.

"We are going to make this a crusade," Barry (D-Ward 8) said at a news conference before friends wheeled him out of the hospital.

Barry said he planned to spend the next few days resting so that he can be ready to return Tuesday to the council. Doctors gave him strict orders to adhere to a healthy diet, get plenty of rest and keep up with medications that are designed to prevent his body from rejecting the kidney he got from a 48-year-old friend, Kim Dickens.

Dickens, who was released Tuesday, spoke at length yesterday about her decision to take such a big step for her longtime friend, who had been on dialysis for several months after hypertension and diabetes wore down his kidneys.

"Marion has done so much for the residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia, the least that I could do was give him a kidney," she said. Some family members and friends worried about her decision, she added, but she went forward.

"I have been in the medical field for more than 22 years; I understood the science, I talked to donors and I read the literature," said Dickens, a medical consultant for an HMO, who enjoys yoga, reggae and church. "I am just truly grateful that I was in a position to help."

A single mother, she initially kept the news from her 15-year-old daughter, waiting until after the surgery to share the news. "I didn't want her to worry or have an excuse to miss school," Dickens explained.

Just before the surgery, Barry's gurney was wheeled next to hers, Dickens said. "I just said, 'I will see you later.' "

She saw him again on Sunday, she said, while he was still in intensive care. "I heard that he was doing okay, but I needed to see him," she said. "There were lots of hugs and kisses."

Yesterday, Barry said that he had known for months that his kidneys were failing but was reluctant to tell people how sick he really was. He said he finally asked friends to consider donating a kidney because the alternative seemed unacceptable: "Dialysis three days a week, four hours a day." Barry added: "I said, 'God is in this picture; I am going to find somebody.' "

Dickens was thrilled that she was a match. Like Barry, she said, "I want to bring awareness to the community about donor education."

But unlike Barry, she'll have a more active weekend: she plans to celebrate her 49th birthday tonight at the Reggae Music Awards in the District.

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