More than 20 years ago, Dianne Stein and a group of friends wanted to do something for local patients undergoing dialysis and other kidney-related treatments.
They started a golf tournament and they scored a “hole-in-one.” Over the past two decades, Stein and her volunteers have raised nearly $400,000.
But even good things come to an end and on Aug. 15, they held their 20th and final tournament, raising $12,000.
“I believe in helping out local people,” said Stein, who for 20 years worked as a unit clerk and coordinator at Rhode Island Renal, a non-profit dialysis now known as the for-profit clinic, Fresenius Medical Care on Post Road. “I know what the patients went through because I worked with them side-by-side.”
While she hasn’t worked in the medical field since 2008, those in need still hold a special place in Stein’s heart. Many patients earn below poverty level wages, taking home between $10,000 and $12,000 per year, with some receiving as little as $8,000. Several are unable to work because of their disability, as they visit the clinic three times a week for dialysis.
“These patients were desperate,” Stein said, noting that insurance doesn’t always cover treatments and medications. “Some of them still try to hold down a job. They work on their off day, but they are not feeling that great. A majority of them have diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease, and some have cancer. Many are on 20 to 30 medications a day.”
And plenty of patients have children.
“One woman with four kids couldn’t afford to put food on their table or buy them school supplies,” said Stein. “It just broke my heart. They need the help because they don’t get it from big organizations. The American Kidney Fund helps, but more is needed.”
To lend a hand, Stein and other former Rhode Island Renal staffers formed Dialysis Patients Association of Warwick (DPAW), a non-profit organization that raises and donates funds to local dialysis patients.
They founded it 25 years ago, raising small amounts through car washes and yard sales. But they knew they needed to do something bigger to make more of an impact.
That’s when Stein began chatting with former patient, Nick Garganese. As a golfer, he suggested a golf tournament. Sadly, he had a heart attack while receiving dialysis in the midst of planning the first event.
“Everything was up in air, but we still wanted to go forward with it,” Stein said. “It was difficult because I had no clue about golf, but we did it.”
The first year they had 32 golfers, but the event steadily expanded in time. With promotional help from Stein’s husband, Bruce, who used to own and operate IM Gan Liquors, they had 167 golfers teeing off by the fourth or fifth year. On average, they’ve had 144 participants each year.
Stein was thrilled that an annual round of 18 holes at Richmond Country Club, along with raffles and silent auctions, had the power to assist patients. Raising awareness, she said, was also important.
“Heart disease, stroke, cancer, [and] Alzheimer’s have national organizations that promote awareness and fundraisers, but people don’t know about kidney disease,” Stein said. “They don’t know the impact it has on the average person. It affects every part of their body and a lot of them can’t work. Their phones get shut off, their electric gets shut off, their heat gets shut off, [and] they have no money for food. It’s a big issue.”
Kathy Rosener, a social worker and DPAW member, agrees. She also witnesses patients struggle.
“For some of the patients, the need is so great,” Rosener said. “It’s hard for them to get financial assistance. Their medical bills aren’t taken into consideration.”
Not having funds to care for themselves is costing a few patients more than just money; it’s costing their lives. Rosener spoke of elderly patients who can’t afford RIDE tickets in order to get to the clinic.
“It’s $4 each way,” she said. “At $8 a day three times a week, it’s $24 just to get back and forth to dialysis. A lot of them couldn’t even come to dialysis because they didn’t have money for transportation.”
But DPAW has provided funds so patients are able to visit the clinic, among other needs. Rosener estimates they have helped approximately 50 patients per year, allowing them to have enough money for groceries, rent, utilities, medications, co-pays, even burials.
Years ago, before medical advances, Stein and Rosener watched patients pass away on dialysis machines. They’ve attended wakes and funerals for those who succumb to the disease, including three former DPAW presidents, Garganese, Denise Genuario and Vincent Lombardi.
“These were people who were so sick but still volunteered for the tournament,” Stein said. “They felt strongly about it.”
And while Stein feels strongly about it, as well, added responsibilities in her life are preventing her from keeping the fundraiser going. She has her own business, Competitor’s Closet, a store at 1001 Sandy Lane that sells dance, gymnastics, skating and cheerleading apparel, as well as a clothing line.
Plus, a lack of participation and donations are making it more difficult to sustain.
“I wish I could keep it up, but it’s hard,” she said. “I gave it a good try. Because of the economy, we’re getting less and less support. If somebody wanted to take it over, that would be wonderful.”
Stein thanked the many businesses and volunteers that made the fundraiser possible, such as Rosener. She also said she never would have been able to do it without Bruce.
“I have a wonderful husband that was right there with me giving me support,” she said.
But Rosener said Stein deserves credit. She described Stein as the “most remarkable person in the world.”
“If it wasn’t for Dianne, [a few patients would] be in a homeless shelter,” said Rosener. “She’s the most selfless, hardest working individual I’ve ever met in my entire life. At one point, she was coming to the dialysis clinic at 2 o’clock in the morning, where she’d work until 10 a.m. From there, she’d go to the liquor store until 2 p.m. before heading to her business to work until late at night.”
Joan Miga feels the same. She praised her daughter’s efforts.
“She works all day, sews all night until 3 in the morning and fits these golf tournaments in between,” Miga said.
For Stein, who Rosener and Miga said avoids receiving recognition, the hard work has been worth it. Knowing she and the rest of the volunteers made a difference for patients is heartwarming.
“I loved every minute of it,” Stein said. “We had fun.”
In the future, Stein hopes people continue to make donations to the fund, as a few family members of patients who received help requested in obituaries that donations in memory of the deceased be made to DPAW.
And Stein is already thinking about planning a five-year reunion for volunteers, participants and donors alike.
“We’ll see what time brings,” she said.
To make a donation to DPAW, contact Stein at 737-7447 or 739-9022. Checks can be addressed to DPAW at 23 Larkspur Road in Warwick, RI 02886.