Filipino man flies to San Diego to save cousin’s life

SAN DIEGO – A 7,500 mile trek to save a life.

Last month, a man fulfilled his father’s dying wish by donating one of his kidneys to a sick cousin.

Cousins Bianca Santos and Paulo Pono were thick as thieves growing up in the Philippines. The pair was born in the same month, in the same year. As young kinds, they lived in the same subdivision in Cebu. Pono often recalls picking Santos up from elementary school with her mother.

However, a rare disorder, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, struck Santos at the age of 10, causing her kidneys to slowly fail. In search of better medical attention, her family moved to the U.S.

FOX 5 sat down with Santos, now an engineer at Qualcomm, just weeks after major surgery.

She said two years ago, at the age of 29, she received devastating news. Doctors said she needed a new kidney. Her parents turned out not to be matches, and two different organ transplant labs informed Santos it could take years to find a donated kidney, so the Santos family reached overseas for help.

Pono told FOX 5 when he heard about his cousin’s need for a kidney, he knew he had to help. He said he had returned from a family gathering and fell asleep quickly, when he suddenly woke up to an epiphany.

“It came to me that night. I don’t know, probably someone [spoke to me that night]. Maybe [it was] my dad. Maybe [it was] God or something,” Pono described.

Pono said before his father’s death 20 years ago, he made a promise to his niece, Bianca.

“[My father] told [Bianca] if she [eventually] needed a kidney, he would be the one to donate it,” Pono said.

Since Pono’s father passed many years ago, Pono stepped in to fulfill his father’s dying wish. Pono kicked a few bad habits and made two trips to San Diego to complete the process of donating his kidney to his cousin at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

In May, the cousins underwent a successful kidney transplant surgery.

“[My cousin] sacrificed a lot for me… and I’m really thankful for that,” Santos said.

When FOX 5 asked Pono why he did this, he responded, “I did it all for the family… yeah… all for the family.”

Doctors did not remove Santos’s two weak kidneys so that she could recover faster. Her cousin’s kidney was placed in her lower left side, near an artery, she explained to FOX 5. Meanwhile, Pono has returned home to the Philippines.

Sharp officials explained organ transplants are rarely done if the donor lives overseas. However, in Santos’ case, Sharp made an exception because Pono comes from a family that practices medicine in the Philippines. Those family members have vowed to keep a close eye on Pono’s progress and report back to Sharp’s transplant center. ​