FORT DRUM — Tana’e E. Sands’ mother had a request few daughters would consider.
Last February, her mother, Cammie Clayton, found out her childhood friend — a woman her daughter never met and hadn’t even heard about — was gravely ill and needed a kidney.
Previously, Ms. Clayton was severely injured in a car accident and could not donate one of her kidneys to Michelle Borrego, her best friend when the two grew up in El Paso, Texas, 45 years ago.
Yet Ms. Clayton wanted to do something to help, so she turned to her daughter without thinking she’d ever agree.
But she did.
“I said, sure, OK, I’ll do it,” Mrs. Sands said.
At a luncheon on Fort Drum on Thursday afternoon, she’s receiving recognition for doing something so remarkable for a stranger. She’s getting the Patriot Civil Service Award during an event honoring volunteers.
Calling the gift “selfless” and “caring,” Mrs. Borrego said from her Texas home that she was in kidney failure. She was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, an autoimmune disease in which her protein attacks the kidneys.
She was at 5 percent kidney function when she went on peritoneal dialysis, which consumed 9½ hours of her day hooked up to a machine.
In a Dallas hospital on July 2, Mrs. Sands, 32, the wife of a Fort Drum soldier, underwent 3½ hours of surgery to donate her kidney.
“I was giving her a second chance at life,” Mrs. Sands said. “I had to do it because my mother couldn’t.”
It still seemed unlikely it would ever happen.
No one in Mrs. Borrego’s family was a match for a kidney transplant.
While waiting for a donation, blood tests found that she had “a very high panel-reactive antibody count,” Mrs. Borrego recalled.
Her counts were at 90 percent, meaning that she had a 10 percent chance of finding a match. That’s until Mrs. Sands agreed to donate.
Last February, Mrs. Sands was tested for the first time and then subsequently went to Dallas for more tests before undergoing an all-day evaluation.
And then the mother of four ended up a match. She immediately called Mrs. Borrego with the unexpected news.
“She had no words,” Mrs. Sands said. “She was really grateful and super excited, and then she cried.”
At the time, Mrs. Borrego, 54, a nurse in a hospital outside of Dallas, was in rough shape, she recalled. And Mrs. Sands was seven months pregnant.
“She absolutely saved my life,” Mrs. Borrego said. “It’s absolutely mind-boggling just the fact that she would just try to be a match, especially that she was pregnant.
“And that God would do this incredible thing.”
They had to wait until Mrs. Sands gave birth, however. Just about two months later, she was off to Dallas.
Ms. Clayton says she’s proud of her daughter.
“It goes to show you that there’s still good on this earth,” she said.
In a strange twist, on that same date eight years before, July 2 played a crucial role in Mrs. Sands’ life. She was in a car accident on that day in 2011 that resulted in her getting thrown from the vehicle and the vehicle nearly ending on top of her. She suffered a cracked skull and other injuries.
All these years later, Ms. Clayton just happened to see a posting that Mrs. Borrego’s three daughters put up on Facebook looking for someone who might donate a kidney or purchase a T-shirt with proceeds going toward donor expenses.
Over the years, the two friends kept in contact through Facebook after hanging out as sixth-graders in Texas. She remembered her friend as a pretty, petite girl who became a cheerleader in high school and dated a member of the football team who is now her husband, David.
Mrs. Sands and her mother’s childhood friend now share a special bond.
“She’s my second mom,” Mrs. Sands said.
Later today, she will be among 35 civilians and soldiers associated with the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery regimen who will be honored for their volunteer work.
The recognition includes volunteers working with the community’s youth, at local churches, on-post and with nonprofit organizations.
Col. Michael Englis, who’s putting on the luncheon, is amazed at Mrs. Sands’ sacrifice.
“We give our time,” Col. Englis said. “She gave a body part.”
In September, Mrs. Sands also organized a kidney walk at Thompson Park that raised $500.