North Andover girl, 11, to sing at Boston's Symphony Hall for 'Share the Beat' benefit

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Kidney transplant recipient Ariana Kershenbaum to join Boston Pops, country music star Phil Vassar at concert to benefit organ donation awareness and transplant research

The song Ariana chose was called, 'Ain't No Grave,'

An 11-year-old North Andover girl will have a chance to celebrate the kidney transplant that gave her a second chance at life May 30, when she performs at Symphony Hall along with John Williams and the Boston Pops at "Share the Beat," a special concert to benefit organ donation awareness and transplant research.

Ariana Kershenbaum, a fifth grader at the Jewish Community Day School of Greater Boston, will join the Pops, country music star Phil Vassar and filmmaker James Redford for "Share the Beat," an inspirational evening of music and storytelling. Ariana's mother, Sue Kershenbaum, said her daughter was chosen to perform at the concert after Ariana's nephrologist at Children's Hospital Boston saw a video of the now-healthy young girl singing at the Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School camp.

"The song Ariana chose was called, 'Ain't No Grave,'" Sue Kershenbaum said. "The chorus says, 'Ain't no grave gonna hold my body down.'"

Ariana's sister videotaped the performance, which later found its way to Dr. William Harmon, Ariana's doctor and a member of the "Share the Beat" host committee, which invited her to sing at the concert. Now in its sixth year, "Share the Beat" was created by the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness (JRI). Filmmaker James Redford, son of Academy Award-winning actor/director Robert Redford, founded JRI in 1995 after receiving a life-saving liver transplant.

A remarkable journey
Ariana's "Share the Beat" performance is the latest reminder of just how far the young girl has come since 2005, when a routine pre-camp physical led doctors to discover a previously undetected congenital kidney problem.

"Ariana never complained of any discomfort or pain," Kershenbaum said, "so by the time they caught it, her kidneys had been destroyed."

The diagnosis was the beginning of a year-long ordeal that included a month-long stay at Children's Hospital followed four months later by the removal of both of Ariana's kidneys.

"That's when it hit us hard, when we finally realized there was no going back," Kershenbaum said. "We really came to terms with the fact that she was going to need a transplant."

Initially, the Kershenbaums were confident that their large family would be able to provide a donor kidney for Ariana. One by one, however, family members were ruled out as possible donors. For the next nine months, Ariana endured dialysis treatments three times a week, a schedule that caused her to miss school and prevented her from participating in favorite activities like swimming and playing outside.

"Ariana had to take growth hormone shots because your kidneys help regulate growth," Kershenbaum said. "Dialysis patients also have fluid restrictions. Do you know what it's like to tell an 8-year-old she can't go out and play on a hot summer day because she might get thirsty and won't be able to have a drink?"

In August 2006, a donor kidney became available and Ariana received her transplant. The improvement in her condition was immediate.

"It was unbelievable to see how quickly she bounced back," Kershenbaum said. Ten days after the surgery, she was hanging upside down from a tree in our yard!"

Confidentiality laws currently prevent the Kershenbaums from learning the identity of the organ donor; they know only that the organ came from a deceased young adult. They hope, however, to share with the donor's family the difference the transplant has made in the quality of Ariana's life.

"I would like to one day thank the family," Kershenbaum said. "I want to tell them I'm so very sorry for their loss, and so very grateful for their gift."

Proceeds from the "Share the Beat" concert will benefit the American Society of Transplantation and the Redford AnimAction Project. Tickets are available at http://www.sharethebeat.org

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