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Huntington Beach woman continues search for living kidney donor

Huntington Beach resident Julie Holdaway is searching for a kidney donor.
Huntington Beach resident Julie Holdaway is searching for a kidney donor. Holdaway, the vice president of the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine, suffers from a hereditary kidney disease.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Huntington Beach resident Julie Holdaway loves to cook. It’s just one of the many ways she gives to others.

Holdaway graduated from Edison High School in 1985, and decades later she participates in a cooking club with some good friends who attended the campus with her.

The theme at one recent get-together was Mediterranean food. Holdaway didn’t just bring pita bread from the store — she brought the dough so the friends could make their own pitas on the grill.

“She doesn’t mail anything in,” said Holdaway’s high school friend Lisa Roberts, who also still lives in Huntington Beach just blocks away from campus. “She’s 110% with everything she does, and I love that about her.”

Holdaway, 54, has worked for nonprofits for her entire professional career. She’s currently the assistant executive director and vice president of the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County.

Unfortunately, her polycystic kidney disease, which causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in a person’s kidneys, has worsened in the last two years. Sometimes she needs to go home from work early. She said she has good days and bad days.

In January, doctors told her it was time to search for a new kidney, as she’s on the verge of reaching stage 5 of chronic kidney disease.

Holdaway has been working with Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles on finding a donor, preferably a live one. She wants to continue working and supporting her son Jonas, who graduated from Edison this year and is now a freshman at UCLA, but if the disease continues to get worse she could end up on dialysis.

“My greatest concern is the future,” she said. “If I have to endure this, I can do it, but I’m in decline. It’s going to get worse. I need to be in a healthier state to support my son and to experience the world.”

A Facebook page has been set up on Holdaway’s behalf, and those who think they could be a match or want more information are encouraged to email kidney4julie@gmail.com.

Julie Holdaway is pictured with her son Jonas at this year’s Edison High School graduation.
Julie Holdaway is pictured with her son Jonas at this year’s Edison High School graduation.
(Courtesy of Julie Holdaway)

Polycystic kidney disease runs in families. Holdaway said her younger brother Richard and her father both had it, and both received a new kidney from family members. It doesn’t appear like that will be an option for Julie, whose blood type is O-positive.

“We keep telling her that this is one moment in her life that she needs to not be selfless,” said Wendy Ballard, another high school friend of 35-plus years who now lives in San Juan Capistrano. “I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for anybody to be in this position, but definitely she does not like the limelight being on herself at all. She’s all about celebrating others.

“I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s Thanksgiving, I’ll work at the soup kitchen,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s Christmas, I’ll hand out presents to kids who don’t get presents.’ This girl does it 365 days a year. She’s just a giver.”

Holdaway said the disease, which was first diagnosed 14 years ago, impacts many aspects of her life, including her memory, her thyroid function and her breathing. She said she can only wear tennis shoes and flip-flops because her feet and legs are so swollen.

She’s on a United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list for a kidney, but that is for cadaver kidneys only. She would vastly prefer a living donor. Otherwise the wait could take five years or more, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

“It depends on what region you’re in, and I’ve been told my wait is eight years minimum,” she said. “In my world, that doesn’t seem like a viable solution. I would be grateful for anything, but it’s not quite as healthy and I don’t have eight years.”

Her brother Richard, who also lives in Huntington Beach, received a new kidney from his cousin several years ago. Now, he’s hoping his sister finds a match. He’s also aware of Kevin Fairman, the Edison assistant principal who is also searching for a new kidney.

Fairman graduated from Edison in 1987, two years after Julie and a year after Richard.

“The bigger message there is that a lot of people need it,” Richard Holdaway said. “It’s a big issue in society, and there’s an easy solution. We all have two kidneys, and we can all give up one. I’m not saying everyone should. Some people have reasons why they can’t … but I know first-hand that there are a lot of people who are super-healthy and living a full life after donating a kidney.”

Julie also wants to preach awareness. There are more than 106,000 people on the same organ donor waiting list that she’s on.

“If anyone is uncomfortable giving their kidney, I’m not trying to convince anyone,” she said. “But I believe there’s altruistic people out there. It’s a serious surgery, but it’s fairly easy. You’re out of the hospital in two days, and you’re back to a very regular life in six weeks. I believe if we just create awareness and show them the pathways, that we can help those [106,000] people.”

Julie and her support group hope she finds a match soon.

Though she’s on a very strict diet, there are too many more dishes to cook and restaurants to try.

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