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Muslim's gift of a kidney gives new lease on life to Christian

Hooshang Torabi acted after hearing about the plight of Gaston Gonzalez, a stranger. He had been on dialysis three years.

August 08, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

One is Iranian, a Muslim and a resident of the San Fernando Valley. The other is Cuban and Catholic and lives in the San Gabriel Valley.

What they have in common is a kidney.

Hooshang Torabi donated one of his last week to Gaston Gonzalez. On Tuesday, the two men reunited so Gonzalez could say thanks.

"He's given me life," said Gonzalez, 65. "Life is opening for me."

Torabi, 61, nodded in agreement. "It is not a life. It's just living -- barely living -- when your kidneys fail," he said.

Torabi, of Canoga Park, was at the UCLA Medical Center when Gonzalez was discharged from the Westwood hospital's transplant ward. That's where on Thursday he gave one of his kidneys to a man he barely knew.

It was an easy decision, Torabi said, because nine years ago his wife received a kidney from their daughter.

"When you have that transformation in front of you, it's huge," said Torabi, who emigrated from Iran 38 years ago. "Your whole life changes."

Gonzalez, of San Dimas, spent more than three years undergoing three-hour dialysis treatments three times a week.

"I was very restricted in the food and water I could have. I couldn't really go anywhere because with dialysis your travel is restricted," said Gonzalez, who came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1961.

Although both men work for the state Department of Motor Vehicles -- Torabi in Thousand Oaks and Gonzalez in Irvine -- they had not met before a chance encounter at a DMV event last year in Hollywood.

The agency was launching its participation in an organ donor registry program tied to the distinctive pink dot that identifies potential donors on driver's licenses and state ID cards.

Gonzalez's wife, Chris, spoke at the Hollywood event, explaining that her husband was in desperate need of a new kidney.

Torabi also spoke, telling of how daughter Saba donated a kidney to his wife, Karen. "I could see both sides of this, how it affects both the donor and the recipient," he recalled Tuesday.

When the meeting ended, Torabi took Chris Gonzalez aside and offered to give one of his kidneys to her husband. Extensive testing proved that the two men's blood and tissue were compatible.

UCLA surgeons Jennifer Singer and Peter Shulam performed last week's double procedure. The transplant went off without a hitch.

It was one of 100 living-donor transplants that take place each year at the medical center, said hospital transplant coordinator Suzanne McGuire. An additional 200 or so procedures involving deceased donors take place there annually, she said.

But the demand for organs far outweighs donations, she said. Nationally, about 95,000 people are on waiting lists.

With his new lease on life, Gonzalez said he intends to travel to Hawaii and Arizona with his family.

When no one in his own family matched with him as a potential donor, Gonzalez faced an additional four-year wait on the kidney donation list. "It was kind of disappointing," he said.

Then along came Torabi.

"We didn't just find a kidney," Chris Gonzalez said. "Through Hooshang, we found a family."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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