Television Celebrities Give Kidney Patients Hope

3623984_com_mark_harmon_at_renal_teen_promTelevision celebrities gather to offer hope to teenagers with kidney disease by offering their services as greeters at the annual Renal Teen Prom.

It’s not a red-carpet Golden Globe Awards appearance. It’s not even a scheduled autograph session. Yet a host of television stars annually gather on the Notre Dame High School campus in Sherman Oaks, California to greet the honorees of the Renal Teen Prom.

And they bring hope.

The Gift of Hope

Hope is all these teenagers need, hope that they can just “get through.”

In January of each year for the past 13 years, the Renal Support Network (RSN), with founder Lori Hartwell at the helm, gives unmeasured hope to teenagers with kidney disease through its Renal Teen Prom.

A Shared Experience

She, better than anyone else, knows how these teenagers feel.

Diagnosed with a kidney disease at age two, she is a four-time kidney transplant recipient who missed her own high school prom.

This is her chance to give back. And Hartwell is not “giving back” alone.

A New Beginning

As I speak with her about the prom and RSN, she tells me, “Back in 1993, when I started this organization, there wasn’t much community support. There were professional organizations for volunteers, but not for patients to interact with each other, nothing to help them just get through.”

Hartwell decided to take matters into her own hands. And the result today is a directory of patient networking that grows daily and a newsletter that reaches the homes of 35,000 people twice a year. Patients in the organization’s literature share stories and experiences, and they share hope.

“20 Million in 2012”

The Donate Life America campaign to reach “20 Million in 2012” is also spreading the word of “hope” this year through its celebrity Ambassadors, including producer and kidney transplant donor Ann Lopez (Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music, America’s Hope Award Honoring Oprah Winfrey).

Painful Times

Lopez is all too familiar with the challenges and heartaches that encircle the lives of potential transplant recipients and their families. She has been there herself, when she became a kidney donor for then husband George Lopez (ABC’s George Lopez, TBS’ Lopez Tonight).

She also knows, sadly, that all transplant stories do not end well. A coach at her daughter’s school died tragically while on the transplant list.

Spreading the Word

This year, Lopez will travel around the country, telling others about organ donation. She says, “Last year, the Donate Life goal (for registrants) was 10 million, and we surpassed it. It’s time to take the mystery out of organ donation and get the word out.”

Kidney Talk

Getting the word out is also something Hartwell hopes will happen through her Kidney Talk online show with actor Stephen Furst (St. Elsewhere, Babylon 5), also a kidney transplant recipient.

In speaking with Furst about the weekly show, he tells me, “Kidney Talk is an idea of Lori’s. She basically wants it to be a lifestyle-type show instead of a medical one, sort of in the vein of The View. We have cooking segments and discuss social issues, that kind of thing. It’s really geared toward young people, and it’s for people with kidney disease. It shows how humor helps people get through chronic illnesses. In that respect, it’s a lot like the Renal Teen Prom.”

Furst says, “I’m responsible for getting celebrity guests (i.e., Howie Mandel, author Jodi Picoult ). Then, it becomes like a Regis and Kelly type show, with me being the Regis character.”

An Amazing Story of Giving

And Furst has quite a personal transplant story as well. He tells me, “Being in the film business, I guess my need for a kidney transplant was publicized. Anyway, someone offered me a kidney anonymously.”

He continues, “I still don’t know who my donor is, but I do have a live donor kidney, given to me by a complete stranger.”

Furst adds, “Being a kidney transplant recipient has made me appreciate life more. I took it for granted. When you have to be on dialysis with two needles in your arms, it changes your whole perspective on life.”

Not Alone

The RSN, to be sure, is doing its part to spread the positive word about organ donation.

And television celebrities continue to support her. Past and present greeters at the Renal Teen Prom include Mark Dacascos (Hawaii Five-0), Pam Dawber, Mark Harmon (NCIS), and Camryn Manheim (Ghost Whisperer).

The need is great; the reward, overwhelming.

Summing It up

And, in the end, it ultimately boils down to one question, “Is being an organ donor really important?” Just ask any of the teenagers at the Renal Teen Prom. Or ask Lopez. “It’s a fearful thing for anyone. But it’s so heartwarming for me to come to the prom and see the girls in the dresses I’ve helped them select. It’s also a lot of fun.”

Lopez sums it best when she says, “Kids are kids. These are ordinary kids in an extraordinary situation.”

More about Hartwell’s organization of hope, the Renal Support Network, can be found at or by calling 866-903-1728. Volunteers are welcome to help with fundraisers and dress drives. And Hartwell is always available to listen to new ideas.

Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover. 

Article originally posted at Suite101.