The Consummate Marine and Big Brother
When Jesus' little sister Christine learned her kidneys were failing, he did what any big brother would do. He gave her one of his.
Though several years out of the military, Jesus still has the build of a Marine. About six feet tall with broad shoulders and dark hair, he is a formidable presence. But ask him about his younger sister, Christine, and his face lights up. The pride is unmistakable in this big brother's eyes.
After months of chronic fatigue and other health issues, in June, Christine received startling news from doctors: both her kidneys were failing. She would need a donation – and dialysis in the meantime. Though age 20, she had never had a major surgery before, let alone needed an organ transplant. "I was scared," she says two days after the successful surgery. "I was upset. There was a lot that could go wrong."
The news was equally troubling for big-brother Jesus. As a former Marine though, and proud older brother committed to his family, there wasn't a moment of hesitation. He volunteered to get tested immediately to see if his kidneys could match. "It's crazy to see your little sister going through something like that – especially that young," Jesus says, similarly two days post-operation. "I was like, 'can we do this [testing] right now?'"
"Jesus was like, 'you're my little sis; I'm doing it,'" Christine says. She smiles as she tells the story, the pride on her face also clear.
Although he had to wait a few days, testing was easy. "They worked around my schedule. In one day, I knocked everything out," Jesus recounts. Even before getting the results, Jesus boasted to Christine that he'd be the match. "Watch, it's going to be me," he would tell her with a grin.
Lucky for Christine, the tests turned up three matches – both her parents, as well as Jesus. But given his younger age, 26, and solid health, he was deemed the best donor. "He was happy," Christine says.
The former Marine could perform perhaps his greatest act of selfless service yet.
Before surgery, Christine faced two and a half months of dialysis – a grueling procedure for those who have experienced it, requiring treatments every few days. But Christine took it in stride. A friendly presence, she struck up good rapports with the technicians and found the technology fascinating. "The techs would sit with you. They were really nice," she says. The experience inspired her to consider a similar career. "I really want to connect [with patients] because I can. That's something that's better for everyone – when you've gone through it yourself," she says.
As surgery day approached, Christine grew nervous. It was, after all, her first. "Anything could go wrong," she remembers thinking. For Jesus, who had endured surgical procedures on the front lines of Afghanistan, it was also nerve-wracking – but for different reasons. "My worries were more for her sake – that my kidney would take, that everything would work out," he says.
Both came through with flying colors.
Though the two had always been close, after surgery they shared a particularly special bond. "I definitely feel like I can never repay him. When I told him thanks he was just like, 'what are you thanking me for?'" Christine says.
Proud of her rapid recovery, Jesus jokes that it was his Marine kidney pushing her to heal, but then turns serious: "She was so amazingly strong."
Christine, for her part, looks forward to getting back to her regular life – doing "normal things" like going to the movies and shopping, swimming, and also starting those dialysis technician classes "to become the person I want to be."
Christine and Jesus also plan to help raise awareness of the importance of living donations. In a few weeks, they'll participate in the National Kidney Foundation's annual New York City walk to raise donations and awareness. With them will be their parents, friends and countless other living donors, recipients – and their families and friends.
"People get scared [by the idea of donating]," Jesus says, when asked what advice he'd offer those in similar situations. "But these doctors were great. I came out feeling great." He pauses for a moment then adds, ever the Marine and big brother: "This is something everyone should do. If you have a chance to change someone's life – it's always a great thing."