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Fundraiser set for father waiting for kidney transplant

By CJ HADDAD - | Feb 17, 2021

Austin Columbe with his daughter Kensley. PHOTO PROVIDED


Austin Columbe, beloved father, son and family member, is facing another yet another obstacle he plans to overcome.

Columbe, 26, was born with recessive polycystic kidney disease and received a transplant when he was 17. Three years ago, the kidney began to fail and he is once again fighting for his family.

“Keep Fighting the Fight,” a fundraising effort to assist Columbe with his financial hardships, will be held Feb. 27 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Sea-Craft Waterfront Tiki in North Fort Myers.

“Austin is an amazing kid,” said his mother Robin Bittner, who, along with family helped organize the event. “His determination is remarkable. The most important reason he fights so hard is for his beautiful little girl Kensley. He has never given up and never quit despite all of the adversities he has faced.”

Bittner said her son’s kidney is no longer functioning. It was at 22% the last three years and he is now on full-time dialysis.

They are hoping to find an O+ or O- kidney donor who is a nonsmoker, low alcohol user with no serious health or mental health conditions.

Columbe, a Cape Coral resident, is currently working on the arduous process to be placed on a donor list once again and was just discharged from more than a months-long hospital stay. His family has concerns about how long the process may take as, when he was 17, he was pushed to the top of the list due to his age.

Bittner said her son is without health insurance at this time, which was a major factor in deciding to host the fundraiser.

“Bills are coming in and every day living expenses are there,” Bittner said.

All the while, Columbe still finds time to spend with his daughter and continue his dream of become a chef.

He has about three weeks left at Fort Myers Technical College and hopes to open his own gourmet food truck in the future.

“He is very creative, very gifted,” Bittner said. “He’s a talented chef and has an eye for plating and putting everything together and making an amazing meal. It’s his passion, along with his little girl.”

Bittner said Columbe’s going-on 3-year-old daughter Kensley “is the love of his life.”

“When Kensley walks in the room and sees her dad, she just has the biggest smile on her face — her eyes get so big and bright and she follows him everywhere,” Bittner said. “She’s daddy’s girl. They’re just great together. He loves her more than anything.”

Columbe’s family said the way he goes about his life with all of the challenges presented to him is honorable and extraordinary. He held a full-time job working the third shift at Bennett’s Fresh Roast while attending school during the day, all the while ensuring he had time to spend with his daughter.

“He never complained,” Bittner said. “He just got up every day and did it, no matter how bad he felt or how tired he was. He pushed through it.”

His aunt Deborah Thompson, who also helped organize the fundraiser, said, “Austin is amazing with his strength. My heart goes out to him and I’m really proud of all he has accomplished. I know he will get through this with all the strength that he has.”

The fundraiser will feature food, a 50/50 raffle, live music, photo booth, prizes, silent auction and more. There will also be activities for children such as a bounce house, face painting and other activities.

“Come out and meet Austin and support him and help him get through this,” Bittner said. “Let him know he’s loved and we’re fighting for him. That’s why we named it ‘Keep Fighting the Fight’ – because that’s what I’ve told my son from a young age.”

Bittner also created a GoFundMe page to help weather medical expenses and can be found by searching “Team Austin Keep Fighting the Fight” on gofundme.com.

There is a Facebook fundraising page for the event with the same title.

For information on the silent auction, contact Jessica Wilson at ressicajenee@gmail.com or Thompson at 423-300-8012.

Sea-Craft Waterfront Tiki at 3440 Marinatown Lane in North Fort Myers.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj