After three years of dialysis and the possibility of death lurking in the shadows for Gaston Benjamin, a state correctional officer in Lancaster, a new lease on life was granted to him through the donation of a kidney by a fellow officer.
“It was emotional. I couldn’t help myself,” Benjamin said of his first meeting on Feb. 28 with his kidney donor, Luis Hernandez, a Calipatria State Prison correctional officer and Imperial Valley resident.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Is this a dream? Am I going to wake up in the same position again later?’” Benjamin said. “No, it was not a dream; it was reality.”
Benjamin was diagnosed with low-functioning kidneys in 2004 after a routine checkup.
In August 2010 he became infected with peritonitis, an inflammation of the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen and covers most of the abdominal organs.
He said going through dialysis three times a week — from 4 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., then resting before going to work routinely — became not only tedious but very difficult.
A notice was sent to all the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions by the California State Prison-Los Angeles County warden — Benjamin’s warden in Lancaster — in October asking for a kidney donor for Benjamin.
“Right about that time is when we lost an officer in Calipat due to a motorcycle accident,” Hernandez said.
“When we lost Officer Elizondo, he left children behind,” he said. “Hearing about Officer Benjamin and how he has four children; that hit me as a father.”
Of the 20 officers that answered the e-mail, only Hernandez was an exact match, according to a press release.
After a successful transplant at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on March 8, Benjamin, a 50-year-old father of four, is ready to go back home.
“I was able to swing by (Saturday) and say goodbye to him before I come back home,” Hernandez said. “We’re basically brothers now because of what we’ve both been through.”
Both men said those bonds of brotherhood will only be strengthened.
“I plan to stay in close with my new brother and enjoy life,” Benjamin said. “I plan to make sure that we get together for those 49ers and Cowboys games,” he chuckled.
“I don’t think in my lifetime I can find words to put this in perspective,” Benjamin said.
“When there is nothing involved other than just being a good co-worker ... if there are angels on earth then he is one of them,” he said.
Staff Writer Roman Flores can be reached at 760-337-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org