Organ donor's family meets Southern California transplant recipient

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Among the 70,000 Rose Parade watchers in the elevated grandstand Saturday was a family from South Carolina. They came to California to meet the man who received one of their brother’s kidneys. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario was there for emotional reunion.

U.S. Marine and Iraqi veteran Antonio Rivera has a hard time fighting back tears when he talks about his little brother, Darwin. The 26-year-old college student was killed in a motorcycle accident last August.

“Yeah... we were really close. The only person that really knows what kind of stuff I’ve really done in the military is actually my brother. He’s the only one I told.”

Antonio Rivera is 26. He says it wasn’t until after Darwin was pronounced brain dead that he and his sister learned that Darwin, soccer fanatic and junk-food junkie, had registered online to become an organ donor.

Antonio says fulfilling his brother’s wish has been gratifying, “‘cause he saved a lot of other people and that’s what kinda helps me cope.”

Antonio, his girlfriend and sister Cynthia traveled to the Southland to meet one of them. “Roy, what’s going on man. Nice to meet you."

Roy Arredondo is 28 years old. The Tustin-based tow-truck driver was suddenly diagnosed with lupus and the autoimmune disease attacked his kidneys. Dialysis was his only hope for about a year.

Then came Rivera’s kidney. The organ was a perfect match. Arredondo believes it may have also included Rivera’s characteristics.

“You know how when you’re eating some food, some fish, a taco, and you put lemon on it? And it gives it a little zing to it? OK, now imagine that to me. I feel a little zing in me. You know, something’s a little different in me.”

And it’s a different kind of friendship, bond or brotherhood that begins to take shape over Facebook pictures and iPhone videos of Darwin Rivera. Organ donations and transplants are strictly anonymous. But once families mutually consent to meet, the rest is up to them. In this case, both say they’d love to keep in touch.

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