January Gr8 Acts of Kindness winner gives gift of life to friend

Updated: Jan. 30, 2020 at 11:31 PM CST
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BLACK ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - What would you do to help a friend in need?

This month’s Gr8 Acts of Kindness story illustrates one of the most selfless acts we’ve ever featured on these segments.

It involves two men and a life-changing decision.

It all started here just off of Highway 63 in Black Rock-- at a business that manufactures poultry windows and utility doors.

“I do a little bit of everything here,” Antonio Santiago said.

His friends know him as just “Tony.”

He had worked here for only a couple of years when he noticed something was wrong with his supervisor.

“He was tired and winded,” Tony said.

“I continued to work here. I mostly do a lot of walking stuff,” Nathan Russell, Tony’s supervisor said. “But it was hard to catch my breath and do everything.”

A disease that ran in his family, polysistic kidney disease was taking its toll.

“I would go home and just have no energy,” Nathan said.

Tony’s wife first stepped up to see if she could be a match to donate.

She was! But, her kidney was too small.

“We were all upset and then I had to start dialysis,” Nathan explained.

And Nathan’s name was added to a waiting list.

“I figured well, he shouldn’t have to wait for someone to die to get a kidney,” Tony said.

Time was of the essence.

“I figured I might as well do it,” Tony said.

But, Nathan’s kidney function was dropping quickly.

“They’re going to shut down and that’s going to be the end of that,” Tony said. “I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

And yet, it wasn’t certain Tony would be a match.

Before Tony could even be tested, he had to lose 45 pounds.

“The hardest part was losing the weight!,” Tony said.

Tony worked out, changed his diet and surprised everyone.

Inside of four months, Tony was ready to be tested.

And get this, he was a perfect match!

“It’s unheard of that two people married like that would be a match,” Nathan said.

The surgery took place in Memphis, at the same hospital where the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, once had a liver transplant.

“We had surgery on Tuesday,” Nathan said.

“The surgery went fine and everything was OK,” Tony said.

“I was fortunate that Tony could donate within a year 'cause that doesn’t happen too often,” Nathan said.

It wasn’t long until both men were back at work and this happened.

“Tony, please come to the office,” a receptionist said.

We are waiting in the office.

“Surprise!," I said to a wide-eyed Tony as he removed his safety glasses.

“I brought a few of my friends from First Community Bank and we are all here today because of you! It was a great act of kindness that you did,” I said.

“He (Nathan) was really struggling,” I said.

“He had to go on dialysis every night. Just watching him hurt the way, he hurt after a year I decided to do it,” Tony said.

“We want to give you something because you are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness,” I announced to Tony and began to count $408 into his hand, as his reward for winning the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.

“Congratulations,” Allen Williams, Community Bank President of First Community Bank said. “I think the gift of life would be the greatest gift that anybody could give. So it’s our honor at First Community Bank to present you with this check for $408 and say thank you for what you did.”

Antonio Santiago with his wife and representatives from First Community Bank.
Antonio Santiago with his wife and representatives from First Community Bank.(Source: KAIT-TV)

Tony leans over to kiss his wife.

“Very, very, very proud,” Nathan says as he puts an arm on Tony’s shoulder.

“Just watching him everyday puts a smile on my face,” Tony said. "Knowing that I saved his life.

“Yeah, we’re like brothers now... he’s a part of me!” Nathan said.

Tony plans to donate bone marrow to someone in need next.

When a donor like Tony steps up to help, there’s a program available that paid for his time off from work.

Should he ever need an organ donation, he moves to the top of the list--all because he gave the gift of life.

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