Soldier gives NCO 'gift of life' at Walter Reed
April 20, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Army News Service, April 20, 2009) - When her biological family was unable to come to her aid during a crisis, Sgt. 1st Class Tanya Colomathi turned to her Army Family and found a sister in arms.
Spc. Rebecca Brown of Fort Gordon, Ga., donated a kidney to Colomathi and surgeons at Walter Reed Army Medical Center successfully performed the Soldier-to-Soldier transplant, April 16.
"I'm happy that I have her," Colomathi said about Brown, a military police specialist at Fort Gordon. Colomathi is an investigator at Fort Gordon's Criminal Investigation Command detachment.
"Both patients are doing well," said Lt. Col. Edward M Falta, chief, Army-Navy Organ Transplant Service about the two Soldiers now recovering at Walter Reed.
Colomathi, 32, discovered a health problem about two years ago when she was readying for warrant officer school and taking a routine physical fitness test. The test left Colomathi a little dizzy and her blood pressure was higher than it should have been.
A few weeks later, Colomathi noticed she was feeling more tired and run down along with some unusual swelling.
"One morning, I woke up, and my face was puffy," she said. That was a Sunday. On Tuesday, she went to the doctor.
"On Wednesday, I had 17 missed calls," she said.
Doctors diagnosed Colomathi with lupus nephritis. Her kidneys were failing, and her dreams of warrant officer school were put on hold.
Colomathi has been undergoing dialysis three times a week. She did the dialysis in the evenings so it doesn't interfere with her Army career.
"I've fought to stay active duty," said Colomathi, who was classified with 100-percent disability and could have medically retired. "I love my job. "There's not another job I would do. I've never thought what I'd do other than the Army."
For most of the past two years, Colomathi has been seeking a donor. Her mother has high blood pressure which precluded her from being a candidate. Her siblings declined to be donors.
Colomathi is a single mom. She has a son, Kristopher, who is a student at Lakeside Middle School near Fort Gordon.
Other military servicemembers were tested for blood type and tissue typing. Surgery was scheduled about a year ago with another possible donor, but Colomathi was told at the last minute that the donor wasn't the best possible match.
Brown, 22, has been a friend of Colomathi's for about 15 months.
People in the office jokingly call Colomathi "Big Becky" and Brown "Little Tanya."
Knowing that her friend needed her was all it took for Brown to begin the intensive physical and mental testing.
"If you can help someone, you should," said Brown of her philosophy of life.
Even though the two are not blood relatives, Brown came up as a match for Colomathi.
Brown said she knows there are risks involved, but doctors have told her she should live a normal life after the surgery. She has a 60-day convalescence after the surgery. If all goes well, though, she should be discharged from the hospital and back at Fort Gordon next week.
Colomathi will remain on anti-rejection drugs the rest of her life. As long as she stays on active duty, she will have to be assigned to a base with a nephrologist, a physician that specializes in treatment of kidney diseases.
Colomathi should make a full recovery after a short convalescence period, doctors said. She said her lupus has been stabilized and shouldn't cause the new kidney to fail.
The NCO said she plans to make the Army her career.
As for Brown, she plans to continue a life helping others. Once her military commitment is fulfilled, she will be going to school.
"I want to be a teacher," she said
The Organ Transplant Service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center serves the military community around the world needing liver, kidney and/or pancreas transplants. WRAMC is the only transplant specialty center in the Department of Defense.
In 2008, there were 28 transplants performed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
(Charmain Z. Brackett writes for the Fort Gordon Signal newspaper. Walter Reed Public Affairs also contributed to this article.)