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“Raising awareness about kidney disease is what my Mamazita would have wanted”

21 March 2023

Sometimes in life there are people who are so warm and full of love that they make a huge impact on anyone fortunate enough to cross their path. According to Rute Robalo, this was certainly the case for Maria Inês Elawar Duarte, a very special lady who is much missed by her family after passing away last December with kidney failure. Rute has now set up a tribute fund in aid of Kidney Research UK, in her memory.

Maria Inês holding her goddaughter Rute as a baby
Maria Inês with her goddaughter Rute as a baby

Growing up with love

While Maria Inês – who was 86 when she died – may have technically been Rute’s godmother, she tells us that she was like a second mum to her. Rute, who grew up in Lisbon, says, “I had my biological mum, Maria Irene, 76, who was a single parent, and Maria Inês, who was her cousin. I always called her Mamazita (little mother) or Mãe (mother) as that’s how I saw her. We lived on opposite corners of the same street and her husband Papá Henrique was my godfather and a father figure to me. I grew up in their house.”

As well as doting on Rute, Maria Inês – who was born in Guinea-Bissau – also had two children of her own, a son, Emanuel and a daughter, Maria do Carmo, who went by the nickname Micá. Sadly, Micá passed away six years ago at the age of 46, having suffered health problems throughout her life including polycystic kidney disease, asthma and gout. But it was actually through Maria Inês’s husband Henrique’s family that the family first encountered kidney disease.

Family tragedy

Rute says, “Henrique was the youngest of seven brothers. One by one, they died with either cancer of the kidneys, or kidney failure. When Henrique was diagnosed with kidney disease and he was told it was hereditary, Emanuel and Micá were both tested. Emanuel was clear but that’s when Micá found out she had polycystic kidney disease. Micá never had dialysis but her dad had it three times a week before dying of kidney failure when he was 73 in 1998.”

Maria Inês was understandably devastated after losing her husband, but she carried on smiling and spent six months of the year in Portugal, and six months in London, where her daughter was working at the time as a nurse. However, everything changed in 2014 when she had a stroke during one of her trips to the UK and ended up staying here permanently, as she had significant problems with her vision and balance. “We felt incredibly blessed to have that extra time with her.”

The power of love

Rute, who is a creative director and has lived in London since 1999, says that she and her three children enjoyed a close relationship with the lady they called Mamazita – along with her amazing baking, cooking and sewing skills, one of the best things about her was her warmth. “It felt so nice to hug her. She had this huge capacity for love,” Rute says. “I hated to share things as a child but she showed me that the more you shared love, the more love there was. She was the person everyone would confide in as they knew she wasn’t a gossip. Everyone was drawn to her. And she was so stylish and glamorous!”

Just before Micá passed away, Maria Inês was diagnosed with dementia. She was living in assisted living accommodation and while she was initially admitted to hospital with a chest infection, doctors soon told Rute that she also had kidney disease, which is something that the family hadn’t known.

She says, “They did a pelvic scan and one of her kidneys had completely shrunk. The doctor said it looked as if it had been that way for years. The function of the other kidney was decreasing rapidly because she had an infection. They were going to try dialysis but then another consultant said it wouldn’t be ethical to give it to someone her age because it adds more pressure in the veins.”

Family picture at birthday party
Maria Inês with son Emanuel daughter in law Paula and eldest grandson

Nothing left unsaid

Maria Inês passed away shortly afterwards but Rute is happy that she got to be with her. She says, “I was able to say all the things that I wanted her to hear – that I loved her, that I admired her. I told her everyone was thinking of her and had a huge amount of respect for her and thanked her for everything she’s done for everyone.”

Black and white image of Maria Inês looking into the distance wearing glasses
Maria Inês

It was Maria Inês’s dying wish that she would be reunited with her husband and daughter. Rute says: “She wanted her ashes to be mixed with Papá Henrique’s and Micá’s and scattered in the sea. So that’s something we’ll be doing this summer in the Algarve, where we always celebrated good times together as a family.”

The family were united in wanting to raise money for Kidney Research UK, Rute says, “At the time of Micá’s death we asked for money to be donated to a kidney charity as that’s what she would have wanted and it made sense to do the same for Maria Inês as she’d have wanted it too. Raising awareness is so important.”

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