La Jolla surfer helps friend in need — with the gift of a kidney
by Kendra Hartmann
Published - 02/01/13 - 04:34 PM | 8731 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Stéphane Trawalter, left, will donate one of his kidneys to friend Kai Buanoi on Feb. 28. Courtesy photo
Stéphane Trawalter, left, will donate one of his kidneys to friend Kai Buanoi on Feb. 28. Courtesy photo
When Stéphane Trawalter moved to San Diego from his native France a couple years ago, he had one thing on his mind: surfing. Living in an RV, he surfed constantly, even though the only board he could afford was of poor quality.

That’s when he met Kai Buanoi. A veteran of the surf and of Desert Storm, the Hawaii-born Buanoi took Trawalter under his wing, offering him friendship and what money he could, quickly becoming “like a brother” to Trawalter.

“I was a weird French guy living on the beach who wanted to surf. He took care of me out of the blue,” Trawalter said. “My dream was to have a good board, and Kai, after only knowing me one month, took me to his bank and forwarded me money so I could buy my dream surfboard. He doesn’t have a lot of money — he was struggling, too. He just wants to make people happy.”

So when Buanoi’s kidneys shut down — a side effect of chemical agents he was exposed to in Desert Storm — Trawalter didn’t hesitate to step in and help his friend. He offered Buanoi one of his kidneys, and after many extensive tests over the course of about a year and a half, it was discovered that Trawalter’s kidney was, in fact, a match for Buanoi.

“It’s sad because Kai’s on dialysis and spends about six hours a day at the VA,” Trawalter said. “He has a terrible life right now, and I wanted to do something. I’m well aware of the risks and what to expect. I want to change his life.”

On Feb. 28, Trawalter will get the chance to do that. The pair will fly to the VA hospital in Portland, where Buanoi will get his new healthy kidney.

Because Buanoi is a veteran, both his and Trawalter’s surgery costs are covered. What’s not included in that coverage, however, is Trawalter’s lost wages as he lies in bed recovering for two months. To that end, a fundraiser was held at Voulez Vous in La Jolla Shores — where Trawalter is a server and nighttime manager — on Jan. 13. The event, he said, was a “great success. Just unbelievable.”

The fundraiser was so successful, in fact, that Trawalter is not asking for any more donations toward his lost wages and recovery time. Instead, he said, he simply wants to get the word out about becoming an organ donor.

“My goal is to put the word out there about donating,” he said. “There are so many more people that are waiting for an organ ... I’m just trying to reach as many people as I can and urge them to go online and sign up to become a donor. It’s so important.”

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