There were no more tests and no questions for a Norwalk woman after she heard the good news: She was a universal donor who could save her husband's life without delay by giving up one of her own organs.
Dawn Calle had been expecting to give a kidney to a stranger in what would have been a four-way swap, while someone with a connection to her recipient would donate to Calle's husband. But she has type-O blood, so that wasn't necessary.
Finding a donor might otherwise have been difficult since many in the Hispanic community are reluctant to donate, she said.
"In the Spanish community, people don't get tested," she said. "Spanish people give you the shirt off your back, they share. I can go to any single person I know, they'll feed me, they'll give you clothes, everything is for sharing. But in this case -- I don't know. I don't know if it's lack of knowledge."
"The Hispanic population does have lower (organ) donation rates nationally," Joyce Albert, senior clinical transplant coordinator at Yale-New Haven Hospital Transplantation Center, said in an email.
Calle wants to help change that and encourages others to donate.
"Obviously it's a big deal," said Calle, 42, who hails from Staten Island.
"But it's not the end of the world. You know, people sit on the list. People sit on the list and die on the list. They don't have to, it doesn't have to be that way."
Her husband of 15 years, Ruperto Calle, has polycystic kidney disease, which they have been aware of since shortly after they met at a White Plains bus stop in July 1996, she said.
"We knew the progression of the disease, we knew eventually he would need a kidney, but they don't provide testing -- who's a donor, who's a match -- until you're at certain stages," she said. "He was fine for many years and then he had a stroke four years ago. So we knew his kidneys would eventually fail."
Ruperto Calle, a 47-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, is the first of his family to have the disease, even though it is genetic, she said.
His kidneys -- which are still in his body -- ballooned to the size of a football, she said.
They were functioning at 9 percent capacity, she explained.
"My skin was yellow," he said of the affliction. Read Full Article
Surgeons planted Dawn's kidney in Ruperto in a different location than usual during the Oct. 24 surgery, she said.
His old kidneys might eventually be removed, but that is a major surgical procedure that doctors don't like to do when a patient is in a weakened state, she said.
Yale-New Haven's Albert confirmed that.
"The native kidneys are generally left in place at the time of kidney donation unless the kidneys are causing a problem, such as pain, bleeding or taking too much room in the abdomen," she said in an email.
"The transplanted kidney is placed in the lower part of the abdomen on the right- or left-hand side."
Ruperto Calle, who said he is feeling fine now, is a stay-at-home dad, doting on his 4- and 8-year-old sons and active at Brookside Elementary School.
Dawn said she accompanied her husband when he went to get tested for a transplant match, because he was asked to bring a willing donor.
"Once I found out that I was a match, it was almost a given that it would be me," she said. "I don't like to ask anybody for anything, and this is pretty big."
The transplant procedures couldn't have gone better, she said, although both Calles were scared. But the only side effect has been the "shoebox-sized box of medication" that Ruperto has to take.
"It's not such a big deal," she said. "Yeah, it's a huge commitment and it's a time commitment. Because you as the donor obviously have to take some time off from work.
"No costs will ever be incurred by the donor. It's all covered by whatever insurance is covering the recipient."