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Marine keeps family together

By Cpl. Courtney C. White | | September 1, 2011

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Every 11 minutes someone is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.

According to kidney.niddk.nih.gov, Polycystic Kidney Disease is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. About one-half of people with the most common type of PKD progress to kidney failure.

With PKD running in Angela Santos’ family, including taking the life of her mother, she was a likely candidate for the illness. However, she had no signs or symptoms of the disease, that is, until she became pregnant.

“My kidney was, unfortunately, not a compatible match,” said Sgt. Craig Santos, a Marine Air Control Squadron 2 Aviation Supply specialist. “After I was tested, our other family members were tested, but weren’t a match either.”

In a desperate attempt to save his wife’s life, he resorted to the internet to find a donor. He tried posting a wanted ad on both Twitter and Craigslist, with no results, he then relied on www.beaufortyardsales.com.

“Within 48 hours from posting the ad, we had six people reply, saying they were willing to donate,” said Craig, a Charleston native. “We had the first one who replied, tested and the results came back a perfect match.”

After reading the ad, Cpl. Stephanie St Laurent, a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 533 jet mechanic, decided to become a donor, to save a fellow Marines’ family.

“When I saw the ad I thought to myself ‘this Marine really needs help’ and as a Marine, we’re trained to have each other’s backs,” said St Laurent, of Oceanside, Calif.

The moment the Santos family saw the message about the willing donor, a friendship was made.

“I was excited, yet shocked, when my husband told me he posted an ad and that he had found a donor,” said Angela, a San Diego, Calif. native. “I definitely plan on keeping in contact with her, this was her first surgery and she did it to save my life. I think she’s an amazing person and I appreciate everything – she really is an angel.”

St Laurent purchased a Marine Corps Running suit as a gift for Angela. Both patients wore the suits to the hospital.

“I gave her the running suit to keep her warm, to thank her for being a strong person through everything she has been through, and so that she will always remember that Marines put family first,” St Laurent said.

Going through the process of finding a donor made Angela realize she does not want to take anything for granted and she plans to be an organ donor.

“I was on the waiting list for a year before we found someone,” Angela said. “My husband has done all the work, finding candidates and getting the surgery ready. He took over and I couldn’t have done it without him. He made all the calls, arrangements and planned out everything.”

As soon as the hospital opened, St Laurent was moved into surgery. Three hours later, once the kidney was successfully and safely removed, the doctor began surgery on Angela.

“Before doing the procedure, we make sure there are no signs of any possible issues with the kidney or the transplant in general,” said Sara Stello, Medical University of South Carolina administrative coordinator. “We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize either the donor or recipient.”

Angela’s husband sat close and comforted her before surgery, letting her know he was there for support.

“With the surgery just moments away, I’m feeling overwhelmed and nervous because you don’t know what the outcome will be,” said Craig. “I will be pacing back and forth waiting for word from the doctor while she is in surgery.”

After the staff came to get her for surgery, Angela walked toward surgery, but before leaving the waiting room, she turned and gave her husband and aunt one last hug.

Craig walked his wife to surgery, while her aunt turned helplessly back to the chairs. Sitting down, her aunt prepared herself for the long wait ahead while remembering the painful past of her sister and mother having the disease.

“Sitting here, I can’t help but think about how my sister wasn’t able to get a kidney in time, but I know she is in heaven and happy that her daughter is getting one,” said Nancy Lester, Angela’s aunt and native of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I am so thankful - I can’t even put into words how happy I am that she found a donor.”

After hours of waiting, Craig and Lester were greeted by the doctor who notified them that the surgery went well, with no complications.

For six weeks following the surgery, the Santos family plans to stay with relatives close by to have easy access to the hospital and have the support of loved ones. Since Craig was still identified as a healthy candidate to donate his kidney, he plans to give his kidney to Angela’s sister who was also diagnosed with PKD.

“I believe if we all do something to help save someone else, this world would be a better place,” St Laurent said.

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