NBC San Diego
San Diego woman Lorena Rodriguez (left) donated a kidney to Monique McCray at Sharp Hospital on Feb. 9, 2011.
Lorena Rodriguez, 45, has seen first-hand the pain and heartache of kidney failure patients.
For the past 19 years, she's worked with the Balboa Nephrology Medical group in Mission Hills.
"I see patients waste their time on dialysis, away from the family members," Rodriguez said. "That motivated me to help them out any way that I could."
Lorena decided to make a difference by actually donating one of her own kidneys. She would become an altruistic donor, meaning her kidney would go to a stranger.
But there was a problem.
Doctors said Rodriguez was not a qualified donor. She was overweight and needed to lower her blood pressure.
So Rodriguez did, committing to a strict diet that stripped Cheetos and saladitos, which is a salty Mexican snack food. She focus on a strong fitness program, from walking and treadmill running to hiking up San Diego's mountains0.
"And it worked," said Rodriguez, who lost 45 pounds.
Meanwhile, at Sharp Hospital, Monique McCray, 44, had been undergoing dialysis treatment for 14 months. She was in need of a kidney after complications from a pregnancy. She was supposed to have twins.
"I lost one baby eight days before delivery, and that's when my kidney started to fail," McCray said.
Her surviving baby was born 14 weeks premature and weighed 14 ounces. McCray calls her a "miracle baby."
Another miracle came calling when Rodriguez's kidney found McCray. The transplant was performed Wednesday at Sharp Hospital without complication.
It is a new lease on life for McCray, a chance to see her newborn daughter grow up.
"I get to see her ... go to high school, hopefully get married, have children and have some grandkids too," McCray said.
For Rodriguez, it was the chance to make a difference in someone's life.
"I'm very happy that I freed a patient from the time she spends on dialysis," Rodriguez said. "Overall, I feel great."
There is one more twist to this story.
Monique's aunt Ria Curtis also donated a kidney, in exchange for her loved one getting a compatible organ. Curtis' kidney has since been transplanted into a patient from New York.
A relative of that patient also donated a kidney, thus setting off a chain of kidney transplants, according to Sharp Hospital.