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Mom on dialysis gets help with rent

January 8, 2014

It would have been easy for Agnes Faafiu to blame the persistent fatigue on her long commute, which required her to get up at 5 a.m. for the two-hour train ride from her East Oakland home to Sacramento to work scanning historic documents for the California State Library.

But in July, the 46-year-old mother of seven suddenly started having cramps, feeling dizzy and vomiting.

When she went to nearby Highland Hospital, doctors diagnosed her with kidney failure. Too ill to work her demanding schedule, she had to go on disability.

Medications stabilized her condition before she underwent kidney surgery in September, which was covered by her employer-sponsored health insurance. But recovery was slow, and she was still unable to work. Faafiu applied for disability payments to help pay the $925 monthly rent for her two-bedroom apartment as well as additional assistance to cover the cost of food.

But then her disability payments became a casualty of the government shutdown last fall. Faafiu fell behind in her rent, and while she said her landlord seemed understanding, she just couldn’t make ends meet.

The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund paid two months of delinquent rent for the apartment she shares with her 16-year-old son, a student at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and her 19-year-old daughter, Folole, who works the graveyard shift at a warehouse.

Supporting her family

Faafiu is starting to feel better, both financially and physically.

“I could have ended up out on the streets, me and my kids,” said the soft-spoken Faafiu in her modest second-floor apartment with stained walls, the only luxury being a large flat-screen television. “Season of Sharing really helped me.”

Supporting her family weighs heavily on Faafiu, whose husband of 23 years has been in federal prison for 10 years for drug-related offenses.

Faafiu’s daughter Folole has provided her with tremendous emotional support and has started to contribute financially, but Faafiu doesn’t want to rely on her too much. “I want her to be independent,” she said.

Faafiu returned to work Nov. 1, but still struggles with fatigue. She has a fistula in her arm for dialysis and has arranged with her employer to work out of her home on the two days a week she’s in dialysis. She must also undergo the four-hour process one day during the weekend.

Faafiu, one of five children in a Samoan family, was reared in San Francisco and received an associate degree from City College. Despite her commute, she said she’s glad to be back working in a job she loves.

“It’s interesting to learn about everything that happened back in the 1700s and 1800s,” she said.

Faafiu has been put on a kidney transplant list but realizes she may have to wait five or six years for an organ. Meanwhile, she hopes dialysis will help relieve some of her symptoms and give her more energy.

“I’m scared about doing dialysis, but I’m also kind of excited,” she said. She would like eventually to transition to a process that allows her to have treatments done at home at night while she’s sleeping.

Hurt, not anger

Meanwhile, Faafiu, who has four grandchildren, was grateful to host a big Christmas dinner in her apartment with all of her children, with the exception of a daughter in Colorado.

A taciturn woman, Faafiu showed emotion only when speaking of her husband. He’s scheduled to be released from prison this year.

Tears fell when she talked about feeling hurt rather than angry at him for the drug activities that led to his arrest. She said they remain close, even though they haven’t seen each other since 2006, when he was transferred from an Oregon prison to one in Arizona. The couple talk several times a week and exchange letters frequently.

Faafiu said she’s grateful for the support of her family, including a sister who lives up the street from her.

“Thank God for family,” she said.


Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. She can be reached by e-mail at vcolliver@sfchronicle.com.

The original article can be found here.