A gift of life — and love

By The Health News Team | April 7, 2021
Armida and Juan Luna have been married for 33 years. When Juan needed a new kidney, Armida donated one of hers in a living donor chain that ultimately saved five lives.

Armida Luna gave her heart to her husband, Juan, a long time ago. When his health deteriorated and he needed a new kidney, she didn’t hesitate to offer one of hers.

However, neither Armida, a clerical assistant in the Imaging Department at Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion, nor the couple’s children were a match. Instead, their caregivers at the Sharp HealthCare Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Center turned to the National Kidney Registry, which matches donor-recipient pairs across the country and coordinates living donor chains.

In May 2019, Armida and Juan had surgery at Sharp Memorial Hospital as part of a cross-country living donor chain. The chain began with an altruistic donor — someone who donates a kidney to a stranger in need — in Georgia, who ultimately saved five lives. Armida’s donated kidney went to someone in South Dakota, while her husband received his new kidney from a transplant center in Washington.

“Living donor kidney chains give patients with kidney failure a chance at a longer life,” says Tammy Wright, Sharp transplant coordinator. “It’s inspiring and moving to see how grateful the recipients of these organs are throughout this entire process.”

A deep bond grows deeper

Armida and Juan met in their church group. They were friends first, building a strong foundation that transformed into a 33-year marriage with three kids. Juan, who has a history of diabetes and high blood pressure, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2018.

More than 91,000 people nationwide are waiting for a new kidney. Some can wait up to a decade for a deceased donor match, undergoing dialysis in the meantime or dying during the wait.

Armida knew how grueling dialysis can be, so before her husband got to the point of needing the treatment, she began the lengthy evaluation process for kidney donation. Living donor candidates must complete many tests, but Armida understood the need to make sure she would be healthy living with just one kidney.

“The one thing that kept me going was the hope that he would once again live a normal life,” she says.

Nearly two years since the surgery, both Armida and Juan are doing well. She encourages others who are considering living donation to educate themselves on the process and talk to donors about the incredible experience of saving a life.

“It’s an amazing experience. It is truly the ‘gift of life’ for both the donor and the recipient,” says Armida. “My husband has a second chance at life, and every time I look at him, I’m grateful.”

Learn more about becoming a living kidney donor or register as an organ donor with Donate Life America. You can also register as an organ donor when you apply for or renew your driver’s license or ID card.

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