By Casey Neill
Dandenong mum Irene Difesa knows all too well how devastating kidney disease can be.
At age 19, doctors diagnosed her with the autoimmune disease lupus.
It had reduced her kidney function to five per cent.
She endured three years of chemotherapy to treat the lupus, but it was too late to save her kidneys.
Ms Difesa needed a transplant, and four hours of dialysis three times a week in the interim.
She received her mother’s kidney on 17 January 1998 – more than 20 years ago.
The average transplant lasts 10 years.
She shared her story to mark the two-decade milestone and to highlight Kidney Health Week, which runs from Monday 5 to Sunday 11 March.
“It’s a silent disease, often by the time one is diagnosed the damage is already done,” she said.
“I also want to raise awareness on the importance of organ and tissue donation and encourage all Australians to become a donor.
“Words cannot express the gratitude I have for my donor, the gift of life she has given me has enabled me to live a life free of a dialysis machine.”
In July last year, the Journal announced that Ms Difesa would represent Australia at the Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City, Utah, this August.
“These games are a celebration of being given a second chance at life,” she said.
“One donor has the potential to save 10 lives and we athletes are alive today because of our donors.”
Ms Difesa has previously competed at the World Games in Sweden and the UK and at four national games, with squash as her main event.
In Utah, racquetball is replacing squash so she’s learning a whole new sport.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said.
“That was until I played my first American racquetball match on a proper US court with a proper US racquetball ball!
“I sure have my work cut out for me.
“I’m very fortunate that I have some amazing people who have offered their time and expertise to teach and train me.”
Those people are the Mulgrave Country Club’s racquetball members. The club itself has also donated money to support Ms Difesa.
“Organ donation can transform the lives of many sick people. It gives hope for a happier healthier second chance of life,” general manager Kerry Scarlett said.
Goodlife Gym in Wantirna has an official American racquetball court and gifted Ms Difesa a six-month membership for her training.
The Dandenong RSL, Dandenong Pavilion, LJ Hooker Dandenong, Tension 24 Mount Waverley and CCV Springvale have also got behind her.
“The support I have received from local community and businesses has been overwhelming,” Ms Difesa said.
Visit www.donatelife.gov.au/decide for more information about becoming an organ and tissue donor.