A Florida man who wanted his sick wife to have a normal life has given her a gift that money can't buy: His kidney.
Cesar and Monica Calle are celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary on Thursday, and they have more than that to celebrate.
"It's kind of like winning the lottery," said a smiling Monica as she spoke to reporters at Memorial Regional Hospital's newly opened Transplant Institute, where some 30 nurses, doctors and medical staff removed Cesar's kidney and sewed it inside his wife.
For more than two years, Monica has been tethered to a dialysis machine for eight-and-a-half hours every day. "I would connect myself to a machine every night. My cut-off time was 9:30," she said. Somehow, she managed to work full-time at the same hospital where she would have her transplant surgery.
The couple also has three children.
Monica inherited her kidney disease from her mother, who was also a transplant recipient.
Cesar and Monica underwent a grueling sequence of tests to determine whether he would be a worthwhile donor.
Institute staff called Cesar first. Not only was he a match with his wife, he was a perfect match.
"Even siblings aren't always a perfect match," Monica said. "Little did we know... 23 years ago, that he would be the angel to save my life."
When her husband phoned to tell her the good news, "I let out this big yelp," Monica said. "Oh my God, I started dreaming about what my life would look like. I felt so free."
Both recovered quickly from their surgeries in February. Monica says she feels like a new person. She's already packed up the dialysis machine and can't wait until it's out of her sight.
She can travel now. She no longer needs to be tied to a machine that functions as a kidney. She has a real and healthy one now.
"My husband keeps reminding me that I have a piece of him inside me," Monica said.
And she finds that very comforting.
"There's always going to be a piece of him with me," she said.