YMCA Healthy Kids® Day


Diane Hirakawa

You could say that swimming saved Diane Hirakawa’s life.

Diane has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic disorder that eventually (and almost always) leads to kidney failure in the absence of a transplant. Until recently, Diane was close to end-stage renal failure. Throughout this years-long process, she has been a regular on Mission Valley YMCA's Masters swim team. Between dialysis and other testing, she managed to drive four times a week from Chula Vista to swim and connect with her friends in the Masters program.

Diane waited, patiently at first, and then, desperately, for eight years on both UCSD and UCLA's kidney transplant lists. In the meantime, several Y members attempted to be donors. Then, in January 2014, something special happened. The wife of a Masters swimmer came up as a match on "the chain," an organ-donor exchange program. Thanks to friendship, a sense of community, and complete selflessness and altruism, she donated her kidney to a patient in another city, allowing Diane to move up the transplant list and receive the organ she desperately needed.

Diane's transplant was successful, and both Diane and the wife of our Masters swimmer (who asked to remain anonymous) are recovering and doing well. To date, there are 34 Masters swimmers and Y members who pick up Diane at 3 a.m., twice weekly, and drive her to 6:30 a.m. follow-up appointments at UCLA Medical Center.

Our Masters swimmers prove, once again, that the Y is far more than a gym. The "teams" of people within are making connections and finding common ground in a passion for healthy living and looking out for others.

See below for the original story we posted about Diane, from 2011.



Some people like to swim. Others, like Diane Hirakawa, are passionate about it. But it wasn’t always that way. When exercise-induced asthma forced her to cut back on running and dancing, her doctors suggested swimming. She’s currently a member of the Masters Swim program at Mission Valley YMCA. And while many team members compete throughout the United States, Diane also swims for her health.

Diane has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic disorder that eventually leads to kidney failure. Unfortunately, her condition is very close to end-stage renal failure, and she’s currently on the University of California–San Diego kidney transplant list for a living kidney. The wait for a cadaver kidney is eight years and, as Diane put it, “I can’t wait that long.”

Of course, people who know Diane or have interacted with her at the Y know that she’s not slowing down. An energetic retired teacher, she continues to drive more than 40 miles, six days a week to lift in the weight room and swim in the outdoor Hazard Pool at Mission Valley because she loves the Masters Swim coaches and the camaraderie.

But she’s not stopping at the pool. Says Diane, "I can’t wait for the indoor spin cycling studio to open up at Mission Valley!” Outside of exercise, she tutors 4th-8th graders in math and volunteers with the Armed Services YMCA at Balboa Naval Hospital.

Diane’s dedication in the pool has paid off. Her doctors continue to be amazed, with one suggesting that she’s is the "poster-child" for people with PKD, the most common, life-threatening genetic disorder in the world. And because it’s genetic, Diane has already made it clear to her sons: "Most people with this disease give up; I can’t, and I won’t let my kids give up either."

If you’re ever looking for Diane Hirakawa at Mission Valley YMCA, start at the outdoor pool and keep an eye out for boundless energy and an inspiring outlook on life. You can’t miss it.

For more information, visit UCSD’s Kidney Transplant Program— posted 11/9/11