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Kidney recipient to hike all of Appalachian Trail

April 25, 1999

Kidney transplant hikerBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




KNOXVILLE - Asher Wolf is literally weighing his options before departing Saturday on a solitary six-month hike to raise awareness about organ donation.

The kidney transplant recipient will leave behind his Walkman and his favorite journal, which weighs in at 1 pound.

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Even underwear "strikes me as weight I don't need," said Wolf, 24.

As he hikes along the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the Washington County resident will be accompanied only by his thoughts.

And they are weightless.

Not that Wolf hasn't had a lot on his mind for the past nine years.

"Chronic illness has been a major theme in my adult life," Wolf said. "It's hard to talk about because it completely pervades my life."

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When he was 15, Wolf was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal tissue.

Wolf said that although doctors at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., put him on an aggressive treatment plan, the disease scarred his kidneys. He said he had about 15 percent kidney function after the lupus was controlled.

He suffered from chronic fatigue, and said he realized that "this is not a way I could live for a long time."

Wolf's mother, Judy Wolf, gave her son one of her kidneys in 1994. Wolf said the organ transplant changed his life.

"I want to get people to think about being an organ donor," he said. "It's really important to talk about it because an organ donor card just doesn't cover it."

He said he also wants to help dispel some myths about organ donation. There is no cost to donors and no disfiguration to the body, Wolf said.

He said he will tackle the Appalachian Trail's terrain from Georgia to Maine to demonstrate the limitless potential of organ recipients.

Up to two dozen people hike the trail each year for various causes, said Brian King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conference, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Many of these hikers admit defeat after the "very rugged" first 200 miles from the Georgia starting point, King said. Daily elevation increases of up to 2,000 feet, freezing rain and the towering Smoky Mountains discourage some hikers, King said.

Wolf has faced such challenges. He said he was inspired to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail while standing at an elevation of 20,000 feet on Mount Everest in 1998.

"I was really just struck at that moment by the life I was able to lead because of the transplant," Wolf said. "I felt a need to make other people understand that."

Wolf said the Everest climb transformed him. In the past, he had craved privacy, but now he was motivated to take a proactive stance.

By the time he returned to the United States in November 1998, Wolf said he had a plan outlined.

Sponsored by the National Transplant Assistance Fund, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., Wolf hopes to raise $10,000 to $15,000 for his cause. The nonprofit organization will track his progress and post updates on its Internet site, Wolf said.

Along with the freeze-dried food, water purifier, tent and other provisions in his backpack, Wolf said he will pack a cellular telephone so he can maintain contact with his sponsor.

Blisters are a major concern, and Wolf said extra socks will be among his most prized provisions in the pack, which he wants to limit to 50 pounds. He plans to take three T-shirts and two pairs of pants that unzip into shorts.

A small paperback book will help break the monotony of the trek, but Wolf said for the most part, he will pass the miles engaged in the weightless act of contemplation.

What will he do with the rest of his life?

"I might just have it worked out by the time I come back," Wolf said.

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