Santa Ana

40 Years After They Were Homecoming Prince and Princess, She Saved His Life

It's like a fairy tale right in Southern California.

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Four decades after they were crowned homecoming prince and princess, a true storybook ending came to life when the princess came to the prince’s rescue, donating one of her kidneys to her friend to save his life. 

Their story begins once upon a time, about 40 years ago, when they were crowned homecoming prince and princess at Santa Ana Valley High School, also known as Valley High School. 

They lost touch after high school, but reconnected about 15 years ago when Rose Valenzuela’s best friend, Felicia, happened to meet, and then marry, Vitaliano Salera - her former homecoming prince.  

When it looked as though the two were about to get their happily ever after, tragedy struck. 

Salera was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure due to diabetes. Without a transplant he wouldn’t survive.

"His kidneys failed so he was in kidney failure. Without dialysis he would die," said Dr. Jim Kim, a transplant surgeon at Keck. 

Several family members were not a match, but by some stroke of luck, his former homecoming princess and friend Valenzuela was.

"I think he started crying and I started crying. It’s a match. I’m like, there’s no way!" Valenzuela said.

"To give a kidney to somebody so they can hold their wife’s hand a little bit longer or see their granddaughter grow up to be a young woman, that’s what she did for me," Salera said.

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The two underwent surgery a few weeks ago at Keck Medicine of USC.

"Since then he’s been doing incredibly well. His kidney function is essentially normal," Kim said.

Valenzuela said she was inspired by the death of a relative to step up to save her friend’s life.

“I got something out of it as much as he did," she said.

The doctors at Keck Medicine of USC who performed the transplant didn’t know the backstory until after the surgeries.

“All living donor stories are fascinating and wonderful and we can’t do this without them,” Kim said.

By sharing their story, they hope to inspire others to become living donors.

Living donors are incredibly rare, but sorely needed; more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, but only 21,000 are done each year.

Both Valenzuela and Salera are recovering well, and both believe the fact that they came back into each other’s lives was no accident.

“Everybody talks about having a purpose and most people never really reach that, but I think with Rose and myself, through this experience, we found that purpose and not just to help each other out,  but hopefully we can inspire other people to help one another,” Salera said. 

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