Correctional Officer Gaston Alexander Benjamin, the single father of four young children who works transporting inmates to medical appointments at California State Prison-Los Angeles County (LAC), received a kidney transplant at UCLA Medical Center on March 8, 2011, after receiving a kidney from Calipatria State Prison (CAL) Correctional Officer Luis Hernandez. Both officers are experiencing a successful recovery.
Officer Benjamin’s medical condition was very serious and he was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Ken Lewis, Community Partnership Manager at CAL, heard about Benjamin’s dilemma. When Lewis talked to Officer Benjamin, the officer was weak and on dialysis.
“He seemed to have no way to go and no one to lean on,” said Lewis. Lewis told him, “You’re part of a bigger family,” and worked with LAC Warden Cash to send out a flyer to all CDCR institutions indicating Benjamin’s need for a kidney. Lewis, who has been with the department for 27 years, said that this was “the first time we had sent out a flyer asking people to donate an organ.”
Officer Hernandez, a dad, volunteer coach and volunteer California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) “Tuff Teddy” mascot for kids’ events, learned that the fellow officer and father might not survive without a kidney transplant from reading the flyer. Hernandez was a prospective match and subjected himself to a battery of tests to determine eligibility and compatibility. In January 2011 Hernandez was cleared to donate the gift of life.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Veale, director of the UCLA Kidney Exchange Program, when relying upon deceased donors, someone with Benjamin’s blood type usually has to wait about seven years for a match. Yet, because of Hernandez’ gift, it took only a few months from when Benjamin was made aware of his problem to the operation in March. Benjamin discovered his condition through his annual physical check-up. He had no symptoms prior to that.
On Monday, February 28, Luis Hernandez and Gaston Benjamin met for the first time at UCLA Medical Center during their pre-operative appointment. This emotional encounter was witnessed by family members of both Luis and Gaston. At first glance both men embraced each other and expressed heartfelt thanks and emotions.
On March 8, Luis’ kidney was successfully transplanted into Gaston. The UCLA staff stated that the transplant went well and immediately began to function at the conclusion of the procedure.
“I am extremely proud of Luis Hernandez for his exceptional act in donating the gift of life to Gaston Benjamin,” said CAL Warden Leland McEwen. “I am delighted that the operation was successful and that Officer Benjamin will be able to maintain a fruitful life with his family, enjoy his children’s embraces and continue to be a valuable member of our department.”
“We are thrilled that this donor operation was a success and that Officer Benjamin’s life was saved,” said Warden Brenda Cash, LAC. “Officer Hernandez’ act of human kindness is a great reflection upon his character and demonstrates that there are people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for one another. I would also like to express our sincere gratitude to Officer Hernandez, his family, and the staff at Calipatria State Prison.”
Officer Hernandez has donated countless hours coaching sports teams in his local community and has been actively involved with Imperial County’s Shop with a Cop since its inception. The last few years Luis has dressed up as “Tuff Teddy” at events like Shop with a Cop.
Both officers are grateful to UCLA for their skills and diligence in the successful transplant procedure that saved the life of Officer Benjamin.
There was widespread media coverage of the story. To concerns expressed to Hernandez prior to the operation about what might happen to him through the loss of a kidney, he told CBS News, “I can’t live my life on ‘what ifs.’ I had to try.”
“The guy is an angel,” Benjamin told CBS. “I believe there are angels on Earth and he is one of them.”