SAN RAFAEL -- UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital held its 18th annual pediatric transplant picnic Saturday. As usual, it was almost impossible to spot the guests of honor.
"I defy you to identify the people who have had transplants," said Dr. Philip Rosenthal, director of pediatric clinical research at UCSF. "That's how well it works."
Pabel Paredes of Pacheco is a believer. His daughter, Alicia, developed liver cancer as an infant and required a transplant. Shorty thereafter she was diagnosed with leukemia, necessitating two bone marrow transplants from her mother.
On Saturday, Alicia, who will turn 4 on Aug. 31, played near the water on McNears Beach, wearing a yellow bathing suit, pink water shoes and a big smile.
"She is really normal," her father said. "She went to Disneyland. She was really happy in Minnie's house and driving the cars. She liked when the cars crashed. People say, 'This is impossible. She is looking so good.' It's incredible."
UCSF began pediatric kidney transplants in 1964, and pediatric liver transplants in 1989. The first transplant picnic was in 1996.
"The whole idea is to celebrate the miracle of transplantation," Rosenthal said. "It's an opportunity to highlight with everyone the idea that transplantation means being back to normal. I have patients who have married and have their own kids. I was just invited to the wedding of one of the patients I have known since he was an infant. I diagnosed his disease."
The picnic featured kayaking, face-painting, badminton, volleyball, piñata smashing, a raffle and live music along the scenic San Pablo Bay shoreline. It is an event attended by transplant recipients, their families, doctors and nurses. It also is attended by families with children on the waiting list for transplants.
"They get an opportunity to talk to the veterans, so to speak," Rosenthal said.
The Ouimet family of Antioch attended two picnics while awaiting a kidney and liver transplant for their 2-year-old son, Matthew. Saturday was Matthew's first picnic as a "veteran." He received a kidney and liver transplant in June and last week came home after 73 days in the hospital.
"I was just thinking about that," said Matthew's mother, Kristi Ouimet, who remains in touch with families she met at their first picnic. "This time I get it. Now I understand the joy they have. Before it was the anticipation, the wonder and the wait. Now it's like a little sigh of relief."
Matthew's right arm, weakened by a series of strokes while he was in the hospital, has responded well to physical therapy. A dialysis catheter will soon be removed from his chest. He has a feeding tube implanted in his stomach. His biggest problem is bouts of nausea.
Kristi Ouimet recalled her first transplant picnic two years ago, and meeting kids who had the same disease -- primary hyperoxaluria Type 1 -- as Matthew.
"And they looked fantastic," she said.
Now her son is like those kids. She anticipates many happy returns to the transplant picnic.
"Every year," she said.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.