A year after Sgt. Jacob Chadwick, 23, was deployed to Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 1, he returned to his home in San Marcos, Calif., only to suffer blinding, week-long headaches: the first sign of his failing kidneys.
Last Sunday, Chadwick underwent a four-and-a-half hour kidney transplant that saved his life. His kidney donor was a fellow Marine, 24-year-old Lt. Patrick Wayland from Midland, Texas, who went into cardiac arrest on Aug. 1 at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.
On Friday, while the Waylands were attending their son's funeral services, Chadwick was visiting the UC San Diego Medical Center to check on his measured recovery.
The Chadwick family said that they would like the Waylands eventually to make contact.
"What they did was pretty great. A piece of their son is keeping me alive," Chadwick said. "Eventually, I think they should [get to know the person] who their son's kidney went to."
Race to Find a Matching Donor
Nearly 90,000 Americans are on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
As of December 2010, 36 U.S. service members had donated 141 organs to gravely ill patients in the previous five years, according to a news article in the military publication "Stars and Stripes."
For the last eight months, Chadwick endured dialysis treatments for three and a half hours every day for his condition, rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis, in which his immune system attacked his kidneys, slowly scarring them beyond repair.
Victoria nursed their first-born and worried about her husband.
"It's pretty wearing on you, physically and mentally, sitting in the chair ... getting that treatment so that you can get by every day," Victoria said about her husband's treatment. "He would come home really tired and not feeling too well."
The Chadwicks were desperately searching for a kidney donor whose blood type would match Jacob's rare Type O.
"[The hospital] told us that a Type O donor could take an average of four to five years to receive, Victoria said. "And that was not guaranteed either."
The Chadwicks contacted Operation Gratitude, with which Victoria had volunteered, sending packages to soldiers during her husband's deployment. The organization promptly sent out a newsletter about Chadwick's need, and word quickly spread via Facebook and Twitter.
A Fallen Hero's Return Home
Some 1,400 miles away, in the heart of Texas, the community of Midland poured onto the streets on Thursday for the return of 2nd Lt. Wayland, who went into cardiac arrest while swimming in flight gear during training.
Wayland's body was escorted from the airport to the funeral by Patriot Guard, Midland Police officers and Midland County Sheriff's deputies, according to local reports.
A community member said, "Our community is very sad right now. Very sad but very proud."
Chadwick said a doctor working with the Wayland family had searched the internet to find their ideal donor recipient. They found Jacob, as well as four other recipients for Wayland's organs.
"[Wayland] was a registered donor but [the family] wanted to find people who they thought were deserving," Chadwick said.
Late Aug. 6, after it was decided where Wayland's organs would go, he was removed from life support.
A Second Chance At Life
That same morning, the Chadwicks recieved a phone call from the hospital: They had found a potential match.
"We were at home. We were actually going to take Ella to the Sea World for the first time," Victoria said. "We couldn't even move after that call."
Chadwick underwent the kidney transplant the next day.
"This whole thing hasn't even sunk in yet, it happened so fast," Chadwick said. "I haven't even realized yet that I have someone else's kidney in me."
His wife said, "It was a joyful time, but at the same time we knew that it was at the cost of somebody's life."
The couple said they want to give the Wayland family space and time to grieve, but hope that the Waylands will eventually reach out them.
"I don't know them personally, I don't even know much about them. But what they did was pretty incredible so for that reason I'd love to meet them," Chadwick said.
The young Marine, who will be medically separated from the Marine Corps next month and become a father for the second time in November, said this transplant is a second chance at life.
"You always just want to do better the second time around at anything, I think," he said. "It makes me want to appreciate my life more, be a great father and a better husband."
Chadwick was also inspired by the flood of support he recieved from total strangers after Operation Gratitude spread the word about his condition.
"I've never done anything for these people directly and all these people wanted to help me," Chadwick said. "I just want to give back to people somehow. How? I'm not even sure yet, but ultimately that's what I want to do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.