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Woman Reunited with Her High School Homecoming Prince Saves His Life by Donating Kidney

People logo People 12/19/2019 Gabrielle Chung
a person standing in front of a building © NBC LA

A former homecoming princess recently rescued her prince when she donated one of her kidneys to him in a life-saving transplant.

Rose Valenzuela and Vitaliano Salera’s story began about 40 years ago when they were crowned homecoming princess and prince at Santa Ana Valley High School — also known as Valley High School — in California.

According to NBC4, the classmates had lost touch after leaving high school, but reconnected around 15 years ago when Valenzuela’s best friend met and married Salera.

All seemed well until Salera was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure due to diabetes, the outlet reported, when doctors told him he would not survive without a transplant.

Several family members were tested and were found to be not a match, according to to the outlet, but Salera’s former classmate and homecoming princess was a viable living donor.

“I think he started crying and I started crying. It’s a match. I’m like, there’s no way!” said Valenzuela.

The two underwent surgery a few weeks ago at Keck Medicine of USC, NBC4 reported, and both have been recovering from the transplant.

“To give a kidney to somebody so they can hold their wife’s hand a little bit longer or see their granddaughter grow up to be a young woman, that’s what she did for me,” Salera said. “Everybody talks about having a purpose and most people never really reach that, but I think with Rose and myself, through this experience, we found that purpose and not just to help each other out, but hopefully we can inspire other people to help one another.”

Dr. Jim Kim, a transplant surgeon at Keck, told NBC4 that he didn’t know the history between Valenzuela and Salera until after the operation.

“All living donor stories are fascinating and wonderful and we can’t do this without them,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the demand for organs exceeds the supply — with more than 120,000 people in the nation currently waiting to receive a life-giving organ transplant.

The National Kidney Association estimates, as of 2016, about 100,000 of those on the list are awaiting kidneys.

Valensuela told NBC4 she was inspired to volunteer to become a living organ donor following the death of a relative. She said of giving her kidney to Salera, “I got something out of it as much as he did.”

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