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Blind musician and 2-time kidney recipient shares transplant journey

PALMERTON, Pa. — Duane and Lisa Hawk’s gift to the world is their music.

He plays guitar, she plays piano, and together they sing.

"We do country and gospel music," Duane Hawk said. "We'll do church services, like for special music, things like that. We run our own equipment."

  • March is Kidney Awareness Month
  • A deceased-donor kidney transplant can last eight to 12 years on average; a living-donor kidney transplant15 to 18 years
  • Living donors can live the rest of their life with only one kidney

Over their nearly 40 years of marriage and during their careers as piano tuners, the Palmerton couple said they’ve fine-tuned their hearing to make up for what they don’t have: their sight.

Both are blind.

The Hawks don’t let their lack of vision define them. They’ve made a life by sharing their musical gifts with the world.

But on two occasions, Duane Hawk, 62, has needed a gift himself. He's had two kidney transplants.

March is Kidney Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about kidney disease, as well as kidney donations and how they benefit those who need a transplant.

Hawk chose to help raise awareness by sharing his story about how new kidneys gave him his life back.

‘That guy lasted 22 years'

Lisa Hawk was born blind.

“My mom had German measles when she was pregnant with me,” she explained.

Duane Hawk said he was born with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which "starts with a narrow field of vision and the retina just keeps deteriorating, so that eventually you have just a pinpoint of light.”

He since has lost all sight.

But together, they said they've had a blessed life.

“When I sit and think about our lives together, it's just unbelievable, because God has blessed us in so many ways," Lisa Hawk said. "With such good families, such good friends, and he has given us so many opportunities that most people would just not even dream of having."

But at 34, Duane Hawk learned that because of the side effects of his blood pressure medication, he needed a new kidney.

His wife said, "I was scared for him. I was scared for me hoping that I could do what I needed to do to help him. It was a scary time for us."

Duane Hawk turned to Lehigh Valley Health Network Transplant Surgery at Cedar Crest in Salisbury Township. It's one of the only locations in the area to perform kidney and pancreas transplant surgery.

"October 2, 1994, I got my first transplant and that guy lasted 22 years," he said.

A second transplant

When the transplant finally began to fail, he turned to dialysis for about 6 1/2 years, he said.

"It was a long wait, a very stressful wait," Lisa Hawk said of the time leading up to the most recent surgery.

The second transplant came on Sept. 21, 2021.

"I got my little buddy and life is great," Duane Hawk said. "Eighteen months out and I'm doing well."

“Kidney transplant, it gets people off dialysis, gives them their life back and gives them better health."
Dr. Christine Du, transplant surgeon, Lehigh Valley Health Network Transplant Surgery at Cedar Crest

Dr. Christine Du, the transplant surgeon who treated Hawk for his second procedure, said, “Kidney transplant, it gets people off dialysis, gives them their life back and gives them better health.

"Ultimately, they will do better with a kidney transplant and remaining on dialysis,” Du said. “Dialysis is hard on the body and, you know, transplant can give their health back and a better quality of life back as well.

"The transplant journey can be long, and it's not always easy, but it's definitely worth it.”

She said it’s not uncommon for a kidney transplant recipient to need another one, especially if the first was done early in life.

Living organs last longer

She said how long that kidney will work also depends on the type of transplant.

"We tell our patients, for deceased-donor kidney transplant, on average, it can last anywhere from eight to 12 years," she said. "A living-donor kidney transplant anywhere from 15 to 18 years. So unfortunately, kidney transplants, they don't last forever."

Du said that because living organs last so much longer, she feels it’s so important to get the word out about becoming an organ donor.

"Our goal is that with living donation, we are looking for people who want to donate their kidney to help somebody, and that they can live the rest of their life with only one kidney,” she said.

That kidney could be the reason people such as Duane Hawk get to live a longer, fulfilled life.

"I'm feeling awesome," he said. "My weight is down. I weigh what I weighed when I graduated high school. Blood pressure’s good and sugar’s under control.”

Technology — and family support

He said this time around, technology such as an automated blood pressure cuff and Amazon Alexa has made recovery easier, but he couldn’t do it without his partner by his side.

"The most important part that I can tell you about any medical procedure is your support system and I have the best."
Duane Hawk, Two-time kidney recipient

"The most important part that I can tell you about any medical procedure is your support system, and I have the best," he said. "I have a great family. My wife is, she's beautiful. She sticks with me like, I'll tell you, I couldn't get any better."

There's no way to tell exactly how far his new kidney will take him, but he is using this second chance to get back to doing what he loves with his love — performing.

Du said most of the time there are no lasting symptoms of a kidney transplant, although the recipient will have to be on anti-rejection medication for as long as he or she has the organ.

She said the average wait time for a kidney is about six years in this area, once someone is on the national organ transplant waiting list.