Like many twins, Marlee Phomsopha and Marlay Manopaseuth, 26, share a special bond. They also share a kidney.
In October 2010, after Phomsopha was on dialysis and in Stage 5 renal failure, Manopaseuth, a perfect donor match for her sister, donated one of her kidneys to her.
"My twin has always been my other half in life," said Manopaseuth. "And now she shares the other half of my kidney."
There are more than 26 million people suffering from kidney disease in this country and most are unaware they are ill. At 25 years old, Phomsopha said, she felt healthy.
Even Manopaseuth, a nurse, did not detect any signs of illness in her twin, a pediatric dental assistant, whom she saw on a daily basis.
Phomsopha went to urgent care in February 2008 with what she thought was a bad cold and cough; lab tests, however, revealed her kidneys were failing. She was suffering from a chronic kidney disease called IgA-Nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease.
By May 2008 she was on dialysis, spending three hours, three times every week hooked to a machine that performed the functions her kidneys no longer could.
"I was so sad seeing her so tired after each treatment," said Manopaseuth. "Making the decision to donate my kidney was an easy one."
Manopaseuth knew she could live a full and healthy life with only one kidney.
Both sisters, who live in the University area, have fully recovered from the October 2008 transplant and resumed their lives, including adding to their families. Phomsopha gave birth to a son, William, in February, and Manopaseuth is due to give birth to her first child, a girl, this month. The National Kidney Foundation seeks to raise awareness of chronic kidney disease and to promote organ donation. The foundation's Kidney Walk is a noncompetitive fundraising walk that brings together kidney patients, transplant recipients, donors and their families, the medical and business communities and the general public, providing them an opportunity "to celebrate life and create enduring community advocacy and support for the Foundation's mission."
The Carolinas Kidney Walk is scheduled for April 16, and the goal is $150,000. The funds will be used for patient programs and prevention initiatives, such as free early detection screenings.
Loretta Carpenter, 26, will be there, walking with Team Jake's Break on behalf of her 2-year-old son, Jake. Unlike Phomsopha, who was fortunate her identical twin was a perfect match, Carpenter represents the many family members willing to donate a kidney who are not able to do so.
Jake, 2, undergoes 10 hours of dialysis every night and is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. Born with a slew of medical complications related to Prune Belly Syndrome, a rare genetic birth defect affecting one in 1,000 births, Jake spent the first seven weeks of his life in the Levine Children's Hospital NICU and had to wait until he reached 20 pounds before he could get a transplant.
Carpenter was a match and was in the final stages of transplant screening when kidney stones were detected, making her ineligible to donate to her son.
"I used to think organ donation was just for old people," said Carpenter. "But now I know that there are so many kids out there who just want to have a normal life."
Jake, who also undergoes 14 1/2 hours on a feeding pump each day, continues to wait for a new kidney.
Phomsopha and Manopaseuth will miss the walk, since Manopaseuth is due to give birth to her daughter the week before, but said they hope others will participate.
As the National Kidney Foundation reminds those who visit its website, "It only takes a short walk to help someone take a lifesaving step."