The Pontes reach out for a kidney


“I spent a lot of time trying to decide if this letter would be appropriate to write,” wrote Erica Ponte of Oak Bluffs, in a Letter to the Editor that she sent to The Times recently. “Plain and simple, I am asking for help for my husband, myself, and our three children. I am looking for a donor for my husband Kenny. He needs a new kidney, therefore a kidney transplant.”

In an impassioned five-page handwritten letter, Ms. Ponte spelled out the desperate situation that compelled her to reach out in such a way to the public.

Kenny Ponte, 37 years old, has been living with diabetes for virtually his entire life, having been diagnosed a Type 1 diabetic at the age of two. His situation has recently become critical and a kidney specialist at Mass General told him last month that he is facing imminent renal failure. This means that his options are either the hardships of dialysis, which will severely restrict his home life and make working an impossibility, or a transplant. Ms. Ponte would happily donate a kidney, but she is not a match for her husband, who needs to find an A or O blood type donor.

Other relatives are either incompatible or ineligible as donors, for health or for other reasons. The couple’s only hope is to find an outside donor. “I know this is a huge favor to ask anyone to do, but it saves lives,” Ms. Ponte wrote. “So if you have thought of being a living donor or know someone who has thought of it, do it! So many lives can be saved by a minimally invasive surgery.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Ponte addressed her motivation for reaching out to the Island community. “I just wanted to get the public awareness out there,” she said. “Kenny’s very well known in the community and I’m not sure if people know the struggles he goes through. If I just sat there, I’d feel useless and not like a good wife. So I put it out there.”

Both Mr. and Ms. Ponte were born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, and they have been married for 11 years. Mr. Ponte works as a custodian at the Oak Bluffs School and has been a volunteer fireman for the past 15 years. Their children range in age from nine to one. In her letter, Ms. Ponte writes, “While we are the typical Island-grown couple, we have major health obstacles.”

Right now, Mr. Ponte’s kidney function is poor. Despite that, he’s still working full-time, although he misses a good deal of work due to periodic visits to Mass General or just because he feels too sick to work.

“There are days that I have that are good, and there are days that are really hard for me,” Mr. Ponte said. “There are days that I look tired and people say, ‘Kenny looks like he’s in a bad mood today.’ It’s not that I’m in a bad mood. I’m just having a hard day. I try to hide it so people don’t realize it and my kids don’t notice it.”

The sick time is putting a financial strain on the family. Ms. Ponte, who worked as a C.N.A for a while, is now a full-time mother, leaving Mr. Ponte as the family’s sole provider.

Mr. Ponte is a dedicated father who makes every effort to be a part of his kids’ lives. Since he works from 2 to 10 pm, Monday through Friday, he spends time with the baby, Jake, in the morning and devotes his weekends to the older children.

“Kenny is a very involved, loving father,” Ms. Ponte wrote. “He travels every weekend with our nine-year-old son, Hunter, who is on a hockey team. Our daughter, Shelby, does soccer and figure skating and Kenny really loves watching and cheering her on.”

The two older children said that their father takes them biking, fishing and swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Mr. Ponte worries that if he has to go on dialysis these activities will be curbed, so he is trying to take advantage now of the time he has with his kids. “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” he said. “I’m active with them now, but I know that will eventually fade away.”

Although Mr. Ponte has been able to lead a normal, active life despite his lifelong diabetes, he has had more than his share of health problems. As Ms. Ponte wrote, “A life of insulin shots, eye surgery, sugar highs, sugar lows, testing his blood constantly has been his life for the past 35 years, and it has now taken its toll on his kidneys.” The otherwise healthy 37-year-old is considered a good candidate for a kidney transplant and, also for a pancreas transplant which would, by necessity, come from a deceased donor. He is on a waiting list for both organs. A new pancreas would completely eliminate the diabetes, and the Pontes hope that one will eventually become available. In the meantime, the kidney transplant is a critical, lifesaving measure.

Seasonal Vineyard resident Nancy Birrer donated a kidney to her brother, Edward Birrer in 2008. His life hung on her decision, and she had no qualms about making the sacrifice.

“He has two beautiful kids and a wife who didn’t match,” Ms. Birrer said. “I was walking around with a solution for his problem.” She said that she had had no ill side effects and has no complications from the surgery. Her brother, on the other hand, “went from zero to 60 right after the surgery.”

Although Mr. Birrer has suffered many complications from his years of suffering from juvenile diabetes, he is now, at 53, living a full life. Ms. Birrer also has a cousin who donated a kidney to her father years ago, and both of them are doing very well.

Ms. Ponte closed her letter to The Times this way, “I am praying we find Kenny a living donor for a kidney so he will not have to go on dialysis and my family will not have to learn how to live with the hardship it will bring emotionally and financially. But if he does not find a donor, we are a strong, loving family, and we will face this together. But finding a donor would be our family’s miracle,”

Ms. Ponte expressed concern for Hunter. “My son is the one who really, really worries about this,” she said. “He’s a very empathetic, caring kid. The other night he was crying. The kids were making a list for Santa. I asked him why he was crying and he said, ‘All I want is for daddy to get a new pancreas and kidney.'”