Pinay receives ‘gift of life’ from stranger

The Filipino Channel’s Balitang America
April 2010

Text, photo and video by Ted Regencia (VO by Balitang America)

CHICAGO — Myra de la Vega is a single mother from the province of Laguna; Dan Coyne is a husband and father of two from the state of Ohio. Their lives are worlds apart, but they fortuitously intersected in Chicago. It’s an unlikely story between two strangers, who now share a lifetime bond.

Three years ago, Coyne, a resident of the near north Chicago suburb of Evanston, was doing his grocery at Jewel, when he struck a conversation with the cashier, de la Vega.

“She’s the type of employee that is hard to train or educate. It’s in her heart. She just treats all people, all her customers with respect,” Coyne told this reporter. “When you’re shopping at the store, you want to go through her grocery store line.”

Coyne later learned that de la Vega’s kidneys were failing and she needed a transplant to live.

As a devout Christian, he promised to pray for her. But he did more than just give lip service. After consulting his wife and two children, the Chicago Public School social worker decided to become de la Vega’s kidney donor.

“She wasn’t sure about this crazy customer offering a kidney. She thought, well, here’s this Irish American offering a kidney to a Filipino American, and in that context she’s a little bit cautious,” Coyne said.

De la Vega’s reluctance was partly because she was hoping to receive a kidney from a relative, who was set to arrive from the Philippines. That plan, however, fell through, and dela Vega’s hesitation turned to desperation.

For the second time, Coyne made the offer. Coyne and his children Isaac and Julia delivered the good news to de la Vega at the store: The medical tests showed their kidneys were compatible, and the surgery can proceed.

Coyne’s wife Emily, a social worker and registered nurse, credited his upbringing for helping someone they barely knew. The couple met at a Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana.

“He said, ‘I feel like I really should do this, I’m really supposed to do this,’” Emily recalled him saying. “You do? Oh. It became a God thing. Is this god telling you what to do? Well, we better pay attention to that.”

After months of preparation and more tests, the surgery was conducted March 26, at Northwestern Hospital in downtown Chicago.

“I’m so blessed that God has given me a second chance. That God gave me a Dan Coyne, an angel,” de la Vega said in an exclusive interview, a day after being released from the hospital. “I call him Kuya (big brother) Dan now.”

Coyne was released a day ahead of dela Vega, and two days after, he was up and about doing his daily exercise.

“I’m doing great. I mean, for having your kidney taken out of your body, I’m surprised how well I feel,” Coyne said. He even brought de la Vega a box of chocolate a day after the hospital discharged her.

Around 85,000 people are in need of kidney transplant in the united states, and the odds of finding a match is one in four thousand. By donating, Coyne hopes to inspire others to do the same.

“I think, we who serve him, need to also give to others with no strings attached. the beauty of giving a gift to somebody else, is that it just keeps on giving,” Coyne said.

For dela Vega, it’s simply a gift of life and many more year to spend with her own children.

“Besides God. These kids, I always look at their faces whenever I feel so depressed, I will always say, ‘Oh my God, the kids, they need a mom. I cannot die,’” she said.

Dela Vega, a development communications graduate from the University of the Philippines Los Banos, said that with her personal experience, she also hopes to become an advocate in helping formulate an organ transplant policy in the Philippines.

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