Lisa Martinez and Keith Chustz might have been passing acquaintances earlier this year, but they are like family now.
In August, Martinez, a Rowland Heights resident, donated her left kidney to Chustz, a parent of a child in her daughter Miranda’s dance class at a local studio called Cutting Edge.
“It was just kind of meant to be,” said Martinez, who works as an administrative support coordinator in Cal Poly Pomona’s International Business and Marketing Department.
Last June, Martinez, 39, said she met Chustz and his wife Sheri at the dance studio. One day in passing, Sheri mentioned to Martinez that her husband had gone to the doctor and was told he would need a kidney transplant.
Chustz had a transplant in 1990, but that kidney was now failing. He had to go back on dialysis in April.
One of the dance dads at the studio volunteered to be tested to see if he had the type 0 blood that might have made him a match. Martinez said she checked with her doctor and learned she was type 0 too.
She sent a message to Sheri on Facebook that she wanted to be tested. Martinez started the testing in March and finished in July. She was a match.
Martinez said she never had doubts about donating her kidney to someone she didn’t know that well.
“All day I just felt happy and joyous,” she said of testing. “This was the path I was supposed to be on.”
On August 23, Martinez and Chustz had the surgery.
Chustz said he couldn’t believe that Martinez was willing to donate her kidney.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I kept saying ‘thank you Lisa. Thank you so much.’ She said ‘you have to stop telling me thank you.’”
Chustz has Alport syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes kidney failure. He was diagnosed with the disease at age two.
When he had his first transplant, kidneys were more available, he said. He received a kidney at that time from a six-year-old donor who had drowned. Adults don’t typically receive kidneys from children these days, he said.
The Buena Park resident turned 50 in September and said the new kidney, which he affectionately calls “lefty” came at the right time.
“That was the best 50th birthday present I could have gotten,” he said. “Lefty’s kicking butt.”
The first three or four months after the surgery, Chustz said that the immune system is attacking the new kidney, so he must stay away from public places with large crowds. Other than that, his recovery is going well, he said.
Martinez said she also has recovered nicely, but it was a little tougher in the first two weeks after surgery than she expected.
She said she has to watch her fat and sugar intake as a result of the transplant.
Martinez said she hopes more people will consider becoming living donors.
“It takes so little to help somebody,” she said.
She equates giving Chustz a kidney to “building up her karma bank” and said the joy she feels at seeing him thriving is more than enough of a return.
“He’s family. He’s my big brother,” she said of Chustz. “I love his family so much and he has such a kind, giving heart.”