PRESCOTT, Ariz. — For more than 30 years, Joan Joanou has been imparting her fighting spirit to the stream of students passing through her tae kwon do and other fitness classes.
A "5th dan" black belt in tae kwon do, Joanou spent months during her teens competing in the martial art in South Korea, before moving to the tri-city area in 1981 and focusing on fitness instruction.
"I was very competitive, and I didn't lose any fights," Joanou, 56, recalls with a laugh.
Now, her fight has turned inward.
Five years ago, doctors diagnosed the Prescott Valley woman with chronic kidney failure. She dealt for years with the debilitating effects, before learning just recently that the deterioration was accelerating.
It was time, the doctors said, to begin dialysis, and ultimately, to consider a kidney transplant.
"They said 'we've got to prepare you, because of the way you're going down so quickly,'" Joanou said.
Compounding the uncharacteristic fatigue she had been feeling, Joanou was now also dealing with a constant feeling of choking, as her body has been unable to process its impurities.
Along with the daunting prospect of dialysis, Joanou learned that she could be on a waiting list for a donated kidney for as long as five years.
Enter Joanou's youngest daughter, Lana Solomon, 28.
Like her mother, Solomon has built her life around fitness. A graduate of Prescott High School, she currently works as a personal trainer in Glendale, and is developing an online fitness publication, www.tonedandtatted.com.
After hearing of the years of dialysis likely in Joanou's future, Solomon made what she considers an easy decision: to donate a kidney to her mother.
"She's family; I didn't even think twice," Solomon said. "I have two kidneys."
Contributing to her decision was the suffering that Joanou has experienced through the years.
"I see that she's sick and sometimes can't get out of bed," Solomon said of her mother.
Because of Solomon's offer of a kidney, Joanou will be guaranteed a compatible organ, even if her daughter's is not a match.
Despite her discouraging diagnosis, Joanou gives off little indication of distress.
She regularly cares for her two teenage grandsons who have lived with her and her husband since birth.
And at her job at the Her Fitness gym in Prescott one day this past week, Joanou agilely dropped to a mat on the floor to show a member the proper form for abdominal crunches, showing no sign of ill health.
But her employer, Her Fitness owner Beverly Beach, said she and the concerned members of the health club are attuned to Joanou's health fluctuations.
"It's a day-to-day thing," Beach said. "Some days, she is ashen and gray, and sweating. It takes a toll."
Even so, Beach marvels at Joanou's positive attitude.
"She never complains; she works hard, and she pushes on," Beach said.
Indeed, Joanou talks about her upcoming surgery and months of recuperation with no trace of self-pity or fear - only hope.
"Health-wise, I want another 30 years," she said.
It is only when she speaks of the kindness of others that the emotions well up.
"It's so funny, I always say it's the gracious things other people do that make me feel I can do anything," she said.
One of the things buoying Joanou's spirits is an event that Beach and Her Fitness will conduct in March.
A "Purse & Scarf Raffle" will take place on March 3 at Her Fitness.
In keeping with the sisterly atmosphere at Her Fitness, Beach said she was looking for a "girly" event to help Joanou.
"All of our members decided that because Joan is remarkable and she does have some challenges ahead, we wanted to help," Beach said.
Raffle tickets will become available on Feb. 1. Meanwhile, Her Fitness is accepting gently used purses and scarves. The March event will include light refreshments and the raffling of the items, with proceeds going to Joanou. The telephone number at Her Fitness is 778-1997.
Joanou said doctors cannot explain why she was struck with the disease. "I've always taken care of things," she said, noting that she has a healthy diet and lifestyle.
"I'm somebody who's always believed in my exercise," Joanou said, adding that she feels that she prolonged her failing kidneys by staying fit.
Again, she puts a positive spin on the situation. "I'm a great candidate (for the transplant) because I don't have any heart problems," she said.
The surgery, which Joanou expects to occur before March, likely will require a month of hospitalization and six months to a year of recuperation.
But Joanou is hoping for a more speedy recovery. "I want to get moving soon," she said.
Solomon also is positive about the prospect of the major surgery. Her recuperation is expected to last four to six weeks, but Solomon said, "I'm a personal trainer and in good shape. I think I'll heal pretty well. I don't see it as being an issue."
Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com