Photo sessions to benefit local woman’s kidney transplant

by Ann Fletcher

Tina Hunt drives a specially decorated “diva cart” at a recent golf tournament benefit.

Forty-four-year-old Huntersville resident Tina Hunt still remembers her senior year at North Mecklenburg High School and the Viking’s thrilling bid for the men’s state basketball title.

But rather than getting swept up in a rowdy student cheering section that night as she’d planned, Hunt was swept off to the hospital.

A routine physical prompted the need for more tests that couldn’t wait. Hunt was diagnosed with stage-4 chronic kidney disease and systemic lupus, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks various organs and cells.

College professionals urged her to postpone pursuing a two-year degree in medical assisting at King’s College, but she defied the odds and graduated with honors despite her failing health, finishing coursework from a nearby hospital bed when needed.

She landed a job in Mooresville and focused on staying as healthy as long as possible while pursuing a medical career she loved.

But in 2004, declining health forced her to stop working. It didn’t, however, diminish her spirit. A full-blooded Lumbee Native American and only child of longtime Huntersville residents Willie and Clementine Hunt, she sees her 26-year battle with kidney disease as an opportunity to reach out to others as well as save herself.

“There’s not a lot of representation in the medical arena for Native Americans,” she said. “I became involved with the Mecklenburg County Health Department, speaking at symposiums and events in Raleigh. My primary goal is to bring awareness, education and to minister to people who are Native American.”

Over the years, lupus has attacked Hunt’s kidneys and joints. Five months ago, her battle took a dramatic turn when doctors told her she needed a kidney transplant to survive.

Her former North Meck classmates have rallied behind her, particularly a group of 10 women who meet monthly and call themselves “the divas.”

With their support, Hunt again is defying odds. She has the greatest chance for a successful transplant – because of genetics – if her kidney donor is Native American, but in 2008, less than 1 percent of all U.S. organ donors were Native American.
“We truly are the minorities,” Hunt said.

Rather than languish on a waiting list, Hunt began an intensive search to find a donor. Despite overwhelming odds against her, Hunt surprised her medical team by finding a living donor on her own.

After exhausting possibilities within her immediate family, Hunt, on the advice of a friend, took her case to the annual Lumbee Homecoming in Robeson County, which draws thousands of Lumbees from all over the country.

Hunt set up a donor education booth at homecoming in June and talked to thousands about organ donation and her specific need.

A potential donor came out of that effort, a female Lumbee. While that’s good news, Hunt also faces overwhelming medical costs.

Even with health insurance, she’ll have to cover a significant portion of the $250,000 transplant cost and the daily anti-rejection medications, which cost $3,000 per month.

To help shoulder those costs, Hunt and the National Foundation for Transplants, a nonprofit that supports transplant patients nationwide, have teamed up with Capturing Memories to offer photo sessions – just in time for family holiday portraits – Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24, at Huntersville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, 200 N. Old Statesville Road, Huntersville.

A portrait costs $25 and includes one 10×13 picture. Organizers are donating the $25 sitting fee to the National Foundation for Transplants in Hunt’s honor. Sessions take one hour, by appointment only.

Call 704-578-7379 for appointment. To learn more about the foundation or make a donation to help Hunt, go online to the foundation website, www.transplants.org/donate/tinahunt.

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