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Uncle's life-changing gift makes Saltsburg teen's graduation possible

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 8:00 a.m.
Darian DeLuca spends quality time with her dog, Wolfie, at her home in Saltsburg.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Darian DeLuca spends quality time with her dog, Wolfie, at her home in Saltsburg.

Darian DeLuca took a part of her uncle with her as she crossed the stage Tuesday night at Kiski Area High School's graduation ceremony. She couldn't have done it without him.

DeLuca was born with just one kidney, a complication of Goldenhar syndrome, which also severely impairs her hearing and requires her to use a hearing aid. She was undergoing nightly dialysis treatments and was in need of a transplant until Greg George changed her life 11 years ago.

Upon learning he was a match for his niece, the Blairsville area man didn't hesitate.

“It was right on the spot,” he said of the decision to donate his kidney.

Drs. Demetrius Ellis and Ron Shapiro, leaders of the Children's Pediatric Kidney Transplantation Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, performed the operation and have been monitoring DeLuca's health ever since.

“The doctors told us she wouldn't be out of bed for a couple days,” said Darian's aunt, Veronica DeLuca, who shares a Saltsburg duplex with Darian and her father, James. “I don't think it was even two full days and she was running down the halls at the hospital.”

George's recovery from surgery wasn't quite as quick.

“I couldn't do anything for three months,” he said. “I was down for the whole summer. They told me going in that it was going to hurt me more than her.”

“If it wasn't for Greg, we wouldn't have her,” Veronica DeLuca noted.

Darian DeLuca, who will need to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of her life, has gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the life-changing gift in the years since the transplant.

“When I was little, I didn't know what was going on except, when I was in dialysis, I remember my mom had to get rid of her cat,” she recalled. “I knew it was something serious because that cat was like my everything and she had to get rid of it because I was on dialysis and I wasn't allowed around animals. I remember my dad, seeing all my family depressed and worried, is what really caused me to want to get better.”

The experience also strengthened the special bond between DeLuca and the uncle who gave her such an important gift.

“He texts me to make sure I take my medicine and to see how I'm doing, asks how I'm doing in school,” she said. “He always calls me his ‘Mini-Me.'”

In addition to graduating from Kiski, DeLuca earned certifications through the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center's computer technology program. She hopes to continue her education and wants to become a medical receptionist.

“I just can't believe that I'm graduating,” she said Monday. “The whole transplant and everything, I always thought I would have to be in a little school, not public school or anything... When I went to Kiski Area High School, it's like one of the biggest schools around, it made me realize I actually made a lot of friends.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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