Iraq vet receives kidney transplant from fellow Marine

An Iraq veteran received a kidney donation this week in San Diego, donated by a fellow Marine left brain-dead following a training accident, squeezing what is normally a five-year process into two days.

The rare, fast-paced swap shows the deep bond among servicemembers and their families, one that continues even after death. As Sgt. Jacob Chadwick prepared to leave the hospital Thursday, hundreds of motorcycles and police cars escorted 2nd Lt. Patrick Wayland’s casket through his hometown of Midland, Texas as thousands lined the streets waving American flags.

 “Patrick took an oath to serve his country. Few people are able to do that,” said Wayland’s friend, 2nd Lt. John Silvestro. “Patrick, he would consider himself lucky to serve not only his country, but his fellow Marine.”

The sentiment was echoed by local servicemembers when they heard of the story. 

“People who have never met each other see some sort of an identification, a mark or a salute and they just know. They’ll hug each other because the bond is there,” said Patrick McKenna from Burbank, who served in the Marine Corps from 1977-1985.

Steve Pierce from La Crescenta, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, agreed. 

“The fact that somebody thought enough of another servicemember is just incredible,” he said. “That actually probably would have happened anywhere.”

Medical staff where the donation took place said the unlikely connection sent chills down their spine. 

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and have never seen anything like it,” said David Lewino, a transplant coordinator at UC San Diego Medical Center. “That whole sense of Marine family — you hear about it, but when you see it first hand, you really believe it.”

Nine months ago, Chadwick had an appointment to get his kidneys checked. But that was the day his daughter, Ella Marie, was born. The 23-year-old put off going to the doctor, trying to enjoy his time with his newborn, despite pounding headaches.

Chadwick said he had always been healthy. He spent most of 2009 as an infantryman in Iraq with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton . By the time he saw a doctor about eight months ago, they told him his kidneys were scarred, but they didn’t know why. He needed a transplant. Kidneys remove toxins from the body. Without them, his life would never be the same.

Nobody in Chadwick’s family had the right blood type, O, to save him. He signed up to receive a kidney from a cadaver, but the average wait time was five years. For 12 hours a week Chadwick was on dialysis, tied to a machine that sucked out his blood, cleaned it and pumped it back into his veins.

He hated that machine, but it would take another Marine’s tragedy and a family’s selflessness to save him from it. 

On Aug. 1,Wayland suffered from a cardiac arrest during a swim training exercise at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. The 24-year-old Marine, the one friends called superman, would spend the next week in the hospital, his brain swelling. His family waited for a miracle by his bedside, while a U.S. Marine Corps Flag hung in the hospital room. Doctors pronounced Wayland brain-dead on Aug. 5.

His mother went to another room to sign off on donating her son’s organs, but she needed a witness. Lt. Jeff Moore, a Navy doctor, happened to be walking by. He agreed to help. That night, while lying in bed, a thought popped into Moore’s head: What if Wayland’s death could save another Marine?

He searched “Marine needs a kidney” on Google and found news stories about Chadwick. That was who should get the kidney, Moore thought. Wayland’s parents agreed. The next morning Moore called the San Diego hospital where Chadwick was a patient.

“How do I make sure Jacob gets this Marine’s kidney?’“ he asked. At first the transplant representative thought it was a prank. It wasn’t.

Hospital staff on both ends worked quickly to check if the Marines were a match. Kidneys must be transplanted within 24 to 36 hours. A blood sample from Wayland was sent on a six hour plane ride to San Diego for testing. Six more hours later, out came a positive result. The kidney left for San Diego Sunday morning. It arrived at 1 p.m. Chadwick had surgery an hour later.

“This is not how it usually happens. It was just meant to be,” Chadwick said. “When you’re on dialysis, you think everything’s against you. Then something good like this happens.”

Wayland’s family and friends plan to meet Chadwick soon.

“I don’t know if Jake is ready for the amount of love coming his way,” Silvestro, Wayland’s friend, said. 

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