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Face of Defense: Texas Guard Soldier Donates Kidney to Stranger

By Army Sgt. Elizabeth Pena Texas Military Forces

SAN ANTONIO, Aug. 25, 2016 — Every day held the possibility for a miracle, but Arthur Corenblith, 56, husband and father of two, was quickly losing hope and questioned how many days he had left to live.

Corenblith, an elementary school teacher, was suffering from a genetic illness and needed a kidney transplant -- fast. He had been on the waiting list for what seemed like a lifetime.

Friends and family tried donating to Corenblith, but were disqualified due to medical history. His sister went as far as writing a sign on her car. “She put on her car, with shoe polish, ‘My Brother Needs a Kidney,’” he said.

Unbeknownst to Corenblith, he had found his miracle. Or rather, his miracle found him.

Texas Army National Guard Spc. Brittany Reppond, 21, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 197th Special Troop Support Battalion based out of Camp Bullis, was working as a sales person outside a local gas station.

‘My Brother Needs a Kidney’

“I saw on the back of a car, ‘My Brother Needs a Kidney,’ Reppond said. “I’ve seen stuff like that in the past, but this time it was like God was calling me to do it.”

Reppond called the number on the vehicle and got all the information she needed from Corenblith’s sister. She responded none too soon. At 93-percent kidney failure, Corenblith was on dialysis.

“At that time I had been on the list for four years, and I was getting nowhere. I had gotten pneumonia,” Corenblith said. “I had been in the hospital for over a month. I would connect to the dialysis machine every night for a year and a half for nine hours, and I was still teaching school as well. I would literally have to hold onto my podium while teaching.”

One of the hardest parts for Corenblith during his illness was missing out on his youngest son’s soccer season due to being on the dialysis machine every day. “I really didn’t have a night anymore. My 13-year-old had to be driven to and from soccer practice by his coach,” he said.

Under a United Network for Organ Sharing policy change made in 2012, the fittest organs would be given to those likely to live the longest with the donated organ. The top 20 percent of kidneys would be offered to the top 20 percent of patients, and the other 80 percent would work the same way.

“Literally the month I was supposed to get a kidney, the national standards changed,” Corenblith said. “I had no idea what I was going to do.”

Registering in San Antonio

That’s when he decided to broaden his chances of finding a donor. “I went to the Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio to register, because I wasn’t getting anywhere in Houston,” Corenblith said. His brother-in-law had forgotten his luggage, and had to return home to get it. He stopped at the gas station, where Brittany saw the “My Brother Needs a Kidney” sign.

“I prayed about it -- I’d say for about a week. I told myself, ‘If I’m a match, it’s God’s will.’ And, I was a perfect six out of six,” Reppond said.

After getting approval from her chain of command, she began the process.

“I had to do a 24-hour urine sample and give a lot of blood,go on liquid diets, and get X-rays, CAT scans and psychiatric testing,” Reppond said.

Donor Meets Patient

Doctors from the San Antonio hospital asked that Corenblith meet Reppond for the first time to make sure she still wanted to follow through with the procedure.

“I was shaking on my way to meet her -- what do you say to someone who is going to do this for you especially after you have been waiting for so long?” Corenblith said. “The hospital told me afterward, ‘This young woman is focused. She sets her sights and she goes for it.’ And that’s a testament to the National Guard as well.”

“When I found out he had two kids I said, ‘I have to do this, I can’t let them not have their dad, because I don’t have my dad anymore,’” said Reppond, who lost her father in 2011.

Even though Corenblith said he never felt good enough to receive someone’s kidney, Reppond gave him the reassurance he needed.

Surgery Day

“I was really nervous,” Corenblith said. “Then I saw Brittany the day of the surgery. She was so calm and confident you could tell she’s a soldier; those are all the things I’m not. She was just reflecting back to me all the things I needed: comfort, encouragement and happiness that she’s doing this for me.”

Months after the procedure, the two Texans still stay in contact. Corenblith works hard to stay healthy through exercise.

“I got her a little stuffed monkey, and I got a matching one,” Corenblith said. “I even went and bought a treadmill, and it’s on my treadmill. I say to myself -- ‘I must be strong;- this is Brittany’s kidney.’”

“I don’t regret it at all; I would do it again,” Reppond said.

Reppond has since moved to East Texas, is a volunteer in the Zavalla Fire Department, and is getting ready for emergency medical technician school.

‘I Like Helping People’

“I want to be a paramedic,” she said. “I like helping people. I’ve been like that my whole life, and the medical field, to me, is the best way to do it. This was a stepping-stone for that.”

“God made my crooked road straight,” Corenblith said. “Several times things looked very bleak for me; bad pneumonia, anemia, medications, National Kidney Allocation change and 1.5 years on dialysis. But, God straightened it out in the end.”

Corenblith is now able to attend his son’s soccer practices, and he just returned from a weekend at Fiesta Texas in San Antonio with his two sons, Mitchell, 23, and Cooper, 13.

“Even to this day, this very moment, I struggle hugely with how to thank her enough and what to say. She saved my life. It’s the most miraculous story in the world.” Corenblith said.

People who’re considering becoming an organ donor can log onto the Department of Health and Human Services Donate the Gift of Life website.
Distribution channels: Military