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In Love With All Her Heart, and a Kidney : Transplant: O.C. couple so compatible that bride will donate an organ to groom for a wedding gift.

October 08, 1994|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — On Tuesday, Victoria Ingram and Randall Curlee will wed. On Wednesday, she will give him a kidney.

Curlee, 46, a diabetic, learned he needed a transplant shortly after the Mission Viejo couple became engaged in February. When he made an appointment with a transplant specialist, he "brought Victoria along so she could have an idea of what I was looking at in the future. I said, 'We're getting married and I want you to now what the future could be like.' "

Dr. Robert Mendez, who directs the kidney team at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, outlined the daunting prospects to the couple. Approximately 36,000 people are on the waiting list for kidneys, and only about 4,000 kidneys become available each year.

Most come from patients who die in hospitals. Live transplants usually come from blood relatives, but Curlee's relatives were not compatible.

"Victoria said, 'Why don't you test me?' " Curlee said. "Both the doctor and I looked at each other, and we thought it was way off the wall. We thought it was just impossible."

Afterward, he said, they went home and "kind of forgot about the test."

When Curlee returned from a trip out of the country, Ingram said, "he had a funny look on his face."

Curlee said, "I got a call, and they told us we were a match with the two most important antigens. The doctor explained to us that our immune systems are identical, and that it was like winning the lottery as far as our matching."

"I don't remember how I felt," Ingram said, "but I said, 'That's fantastic. Let's do it.' "

On Tuesday, the couple will marry in the hospital chapel. The next day, Mendez who has performed 3,000 kidney operations, will perform the four- to six-hour surgery.

"Victoria is someone who is totally unselfish, and 100% behind me because she wants me to be around," Curlee said. "She's incredible."

"I feel gifted," Ingram said. "I keep using the term giving life. I can share what was given to me. I look forward to many years of happiness. It's something I can give him that we'll both enjoy."

The couple met two years ago at an open house that Ingram, a 45-year-old real estate agent, was holding in Curlee's neighborhood. He was strolling down the street and, since "I was planning on selling my house," he walked in.

"Here was this big, burly guy wearing this red baseball cap, with a great big monster beard and mustache," Ingram said. "We just got to talking about real estate."

It was, he said, "like we were old friends right off the bat."

Curlee, now a marketing director for QSC Audio Products in Costa Mesa, had his diabetes diagnosed in his teens and has suffered many of the complications associated with the disease, including a heart attack, open-heart surgery, blindness and eye surgery that restored his sight. He takes injections twice a day.

"My attitude is, you can sit around and feel sorry for yourself, or deal with it as it comes," Curlee said. "I've come out a better person for it."

Although their honeymoon will have to wait until he recovers, the couple plan a wedding re-enactment and reception at their Mission Viejo home in December and a European honeymoon in the spring.

"What Victoria is trying to do is to impress on people is that you can be a living donor for someone and preserve their life," Curlee said. "Being a donor doesn't lower any life expectancy for even one minute. They've assured us it's a very safe procedure."

The couple's relationship also has been good for Ingram's career. She sold Curlee's Lake Forest house when he moved into her Laguna Hills home. Then she sold that house and handled the sale and purchase of the couple's new home in Mission Viejo.

"This is her best year ever," Curlee said with a laugh. "She's sold 17 houses so far, and three of them were ours."

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