EGG HARBOR CITY — Two years after she nearly got a new kidney from a donor found on Craigslist, city resident Nina Saria finally got the lifesaving organ transplant.
Saria, 34, received a kidney Dec. 1 from her mother, Nana Gulua, who with help from U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., got temporary admittance into the United States from the country of Georgia to save her daughter’s life.
“It’s very difficult to find kidneys these days, somebody who will donate,” Saria said. “The only person who I could call and ask for a kidney was my mom, but the problem was she was very far away from me. It was difficult to get her here. She was denied (a visa) three times.”
More than two years ago, doctors told Saria she needed a new kidney and that dialysis would only sustain her for so long. But getting a kidney through traditional channels would be a long wait.
There were 2,453 New Jersey residents on kidney organ transplant waiting lists as of Monday, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. In 2016, 443 kidney transplants were performed for New Jersey patients, leaving a large gap between transplants and people still on the waiting list.
Saria resorted to unconventional means of finding a living donor by posting an advertisement on Craigslist in 2015. She found a viable candidate in Glenn Calderbank, of West Berlin, Camden County, who was willing to donate one of his kidneys.
Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania canceled a transplant surgery at the last minute Dec. 1, 2015, after finding trouble with Calderbank’s liver, Saria told the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill.
Saria, a U.S. citizen, then reached out to her state representatives looking for help in bringing her mother, who tested as a positive match, to the United States for a kidney donation.
Menendez said he worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get Gulua a humanitarian parole, which allows foreign nationals into the country temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.
Most applicants get denied, Menendez said, but Gulua was one of the few granted this type of parole.
“When it comes to life and death, it shouldn’t have to be this hard. We need more compassion and less bureaucratic red tape,” he said.
Menendez, Saria, her husband, Kay, and son Nicholas, 8, spoke at a press conference Tuesday in Barrington, Camden County. Saria said she and her mother recovered well from the transplant.
“Sometimes they are surprised when I say I am very thankful for this disease, because this disease taught me a lot of things,” Saria said. “I was a person who was worried about everything, who was planning everything ahead by five, 10 years, and this disease taught me that I have to just take each day and just be happy for every day.”