Year later, brother, sister closer after kidney donation
Though one Carson City man is missing a kidney, he has a lot of reasons to be thankful this holiday season.
This Christmas, Efrain Sandoval, 34, gets to spend another year with his little sister after giving her one of his kidneys.
Twenty-nine-year-old Magaly Sandoval was born with a defect that caused her to lose function in both of her kidneys. Efrain said he remembered when his sister was young, she would get mysterious rashes and breakouts on her arms, but doctors couldn’t figure out what it was. When she was 11, Magaly ended up in the hospital after a seizure that almost took her life when doctors discovered she had a kidney disease.
Their mother ended up donating one of her kidneys to Magaly, but about a year and a half ago, the kidney started to fail again. Their mother was only a 50 percent compatibility rate, so the kidney stopped functioning in Magaly’s body, and that was when her brother Efrain stepped up.
Efrain was too young to donate his kidney the first time Magaly’s failed, but he said he knew he was meant to give her his kidney.
“I guess the man upstairs was nice enough to spare my life at one point,” Efrain said. “I was going through something real tough and he basically gave me another chance. At the time I didn’t know why and then my sister’s kidneys started to fail and I told her that I would be willing to get tested to see if I was a match.”
It took nearly four months of various tests before the siblings found out Efrain was a 100 percent match for Magaly.
“I was hoping that we were just a little compatible and so we were so surprised just how compatible we were,” Magaly said. “The doctors told us that we were basically like twins we were so compatible.
“It was so great. It is so hard to describe how great it was to be so compatible with my brother. It was the perfect gift, and I can’t ever thank him for doing that.”
Efrain said he was crying on the phone when he told Magaly his kidney was a match. Because his kidney was a match, Magaly wouldn’t have to go back on dialysis.
“At the end of the day it was meant to be, that’s the way I looked at it,” Efrain said.
On Oct. 28, 2014, Efrain and Magaly prepped for surgery at an Oregon hospital. Efrain was to go into a six to seven hour surgery first to take out the kidney, followed by Magaly three hours later after the kidney was cleaned and prepared to give to her.
“All I remember is right before surgery the man said take three good breaths and I was out and I woke up and my wife and my mom and my dad were in the room,” Efrain said.
To remove Efrain’s kidney, the doctors had to make two incisions, one for the camera and one for the knife about three or four inches below the belly button.
“Just glad it turned out the way it did and getting out of surgery there were no complications or anything,” Efrain said. “They said as soon as they put the kidney in her, it usually takes three or four days for the kidney to start working to its full potential and within hours it was working to the full potential. And it was just one of those things that it’s a miracle I guess.”
It has been just over a year since the siblings’ surgery and everyone is doing well. Efrain said they would often joke with each other about the whole situation.
“I tell my sister, ‘Hey I want my kidney back,’” Efrain said. “And she will say ‘Oh yeah you want it back, it’s giving me heart burn.’ So we make a joke about it, we are just glad that it turned out the way it did.”
Efrain said it’s still difficult to fully explain how he feels about everything that happened, even after a year, but he said he has the support of his wife and kids who understand.
“I look at it like she wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for me and I am just really thankful,” Efrain said. “That first year mark came up this last October. We kind of talked about it and it’s still hard for me to explain to her or to anybody how I feel about it, the whole situation.
“There is always a reason for whatever happens and now that’s the way I look at life. There is always a reason for everything whether it is good or bad and if it is bad, you have got to live and learn to take the good with the bad.”
Magaly is doing well — she’s still taking medications to keep her kidneys stable, but because her brother was such a close match, his kidney is expected to function for at least 30 years.
“A year has gone by and I feel great,” Magaly said. “I will have to monitor this for life, but I can live with that. Just knowing my kidney can last is incredible and knowing that I can be there for my daughter and that I was given life, I thank God for everything and just live day by day.”
Efrain said the two have gotten closer since the surgery and they often talk on the phone. He said donating his kidney was an easy choice.
“What is crazy is that I had talked to a lot of people about it, coming up to the surgery and they looked at me like ‘Why would you do that?’ and it’s like why not?” Efrain said. “You step up to the plate for your family. It was no question for me, like yes I’ll do it.”