Leslie “Les” Malala

Nicole Kato photo

Nicole Kato photo

Leslie “Les” Malala was given a second chance at life. In 2005 he received a kidney transplant, thanks to help from National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii (NKFH).

But Malala’s involvement with NKFH started long before his transplant, back in 1999 when he started as a volunteer.

“I heard about the program, and part of it was the games,” he says of the organization’s Transplant Games.

These games mimic the events that take place in the Olympics, and transplant athletes from all over the world take part.

“The volunteer work was the initial thing I got involved in, and the games were exciting to me,” Malala adds. “It was something I could do that I had not done in almost 10 years.”

He has had the opportunity to represent Hawaii in three games (2006 in Louisville, 2008 in Pittsburgh and 2010 in Madison) and has competed in the 5K walk, swimming (50-meter freestyle), 100-meter dash, discus throw, baseball throw and other track and field events. He still is debating a trip to Houston for this year’s Transplant Games.

Prior to his dialysis and kidney disease diagnosis, Malala describes himself as an athletic guy, and says he was big into football back in the day.

“After seven to eight years of dialysis, it takes away the muscle mass and the muscle memory,” he admits. “But I wanted to try get back into it as much as possible.”

His involvement with NKFH goes far beyond the games, and organization staff describes him as kind-hearted and giving. He attends functions and charity events and helps out in any way he can, and also volunteers with fundraising efforts and kidney screening events.

“It’s my way of giving back to what was given to me,” Malala says, also noting that he’s met amazing people along his journey. “I think that I could be a good model for all the other people who are suffering from kidney disease. I wanted to help in any way I could, and volunteering was part of it.”

His mission perfectly fits with the organization, and he states that he wants to raise awareness about chronic kidney disease (CKD) and organ donation.

Malala is the recipient of this year’s NKFH 2014 Wanda Tajiri Volunteer Award. The honor means the world to him, as Tajiri was the one who initially got Malala involved with the NKFH.

Tajiri was a CKD patient who died in 2006, and her work with NKFH led her to the distinction of National Kidney Foundation Volunteer of the Year.

“Wanda was instrumental in getting me involved,” recalls Malala, who works part time at New City Nissan. “I kept staying with them, and I’m honored. It’s actually not an award just for me, but for Wanda.”