0331transplantaudHear transplant recipient Peter Kite describe how cyclists with the NorthStar Bikes team helped him get in shape.
Kite, 39, has endured two consecutive kidney transplants. A congenital defect caused his kidneys to fail by the time he was 13, when he received a living donor transplant from his mother.
That kidney lasted 16 years. He then had to go on dialysis for six years until receiving a second transplant, this time donated by an aunt, in December 2004.
Though the new kidney functions well, it didn’t magically cure everything. After 22 surgeries and countless powerful medications, Kite has problems with his heart, veins, hips and knees.
Yet every day he possibly can, Kite is out riding his bicycle. He rides not only to improve his own health, but for a higher purpose.
He has formed a nonprofit organization called Team Green, aimed at providing education and support for transplant patients and their families.
"I wanted a local organization because the Georgia Transplant Foundation is in Atlanta, but we don’t have anything here," Kite said.
He said he chose the team’s name because green is the universal color for organ transplants. He and several other local cyclists have set a goal of raising $50,000 in 2008.
"I don’t do Team Green for me," he said. "I do it for everybody else who is going through what I’ve gone through."
The idea for Team Green came to Kite as he was trying to recover from a health setback. When he received a second kidney at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he went through an experimental process that makes an imperfectly matched organ more compatible.
The procedure worked, but Kite developed a lingering infection that left him feeling ill for a year. Unable to exercise, he gained about 35 pounds on his small frame and had no muscle tone.
Determined to get into shape, he tried walking around the basketball court of the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville. But just one lap left him exhausted and breathless.
Kite felt discouraged. As a teenager, after his first transplant, he had enjoyed an active lifestyle.
"I played soccer, tennis, water-skied, did whitewater kayaking and backpacking," he said. "I lived as if I was never sick. When I turned 22, I started running. I did 10K races and a half-marathon."
Kite then attended culinary school to learn to be a chef. Right after he graduated, the donor kidney failed. But even while he was on dialysis, he tried to stay active, playing golf as often as he could and volunteering at the Family Life Center.
Yet by 2005, he felt beaten down by his disability. Finally, in early 2006, he took the advice of someone at Johns Hopkins and began attending Weight Watchers meetings.
"I started following the diet and riding a stationary bike," he said. "One day, I got the idea that I wanted to ride a bike across America to benefit transplant patients. I did the stationary bike for hours every day. After a few months, I started riding a road bike."
Kite became acquainted with Kelly Parham, an avid cyclist who co-owns NorthStar Bikes in Dawsonville. Kite told Parham about his dream of riding across the United States.
Parham tried to channel Kite’s enthusiasm in a more realistic direction.
"After talking to his doctors, we said, ‘A cross-country ride might be biting off more than you can chew,’" Parham said. "We suggested trying a ride through Georgia first."
Kite began riding with a group of cyclists that meets every Saturday morning at NorthStar.
"I thought the first ride was going to kill me," he said. "But they just kind of adopted me and took me under their wing. If I had to stop and rest, they would wait for me."
Some of those same riders are now also involved in Team Green.
"He’s a real good motivator," Parham said. "You don’t hear people complain too much when Peter’s around because they think about everything he’s been through, and their own pain doesn’t seem so bad."
Dr. Khaled Nass, a Gainesville nephrologist (kidney specialist), said Kite could serve as an inspiration to the 20 million Americans who have kidney disease, including more than 300,000 who are currently on dialysis.
Nass said the incidence of kidney disease is skyrocketing, mostly because of higher rates of diabetes and hypertension.
"I’ve encouraged Peter’s efforts," Nass said. "What he is doing is remarkable. It hasn’t been easy for him, and I admire his determination."
Kite and other Team Green members plan to participate in a variety of cycling events this year, including the Georgia Cup in Gainesville on April 5-6 and the Twilight Criterium in Athens on April 26-27.
Kite also hopes to do a three-day ride in May, starting in Gainesville and finishing at Jekyll Island, and a weeklong ride in April from Dillard to Fargo. For long-distance events, he’s trying to get sponsors to pledge dollars per mile.
"Peter’s not one of the fastest riders, but he’s one of the most consistent," Parham said.
With the money raised by Team Green, Kite wants to do things that will directly benefit patients.
"We’d like to put blanket warmers in dialysis centers. When you’re undergoing dialysis, you get really cold," he said. "Also, we’d like to expand support groups in Northeast Georgia. There are so many people waiting for transplants in this region."
Being on dialysis can make it impossible for patients to live normal lives. They have to go in for treatment three days per week for about three hours each session. And in between treatments, they feel tired much of the time.
A transplant, Kite said, brings freedom. Aside from having to take anti-rejection drugs, most transplant recipients are able to function pretty much like anybody else.
Kite’s own situation is more complicated because his body has been damaged by lifelong medical problems. But he feels lucky to be able to get out on his bike and to use that activity for a good cause.
"I look at my life and realize it’s a miracle," he said.