At the StoryCorps booth in Seattle's New Holly neighborhood last summer, Anne Delvecchio and Larry Valdez talked about how a chance encounter with Santa Claus helped save a life.
Delvecchio: Tell me about your history with kidney disease.
Valdez: I was first diagnosed in 1998. It was a fluke. I had been out of the military for five or six years. I went in for routine blood test.
A couple days later I got a call from the doctors saying that my results were out of this world for creatine. They pretty much pinpointed it was because of the lack of care when I was in the military. They said I could have been treated with medication and it would have been fine, but because they found out so late and I had lost so much function, by that time it was incurable.
Hear more local stories at KUOW's StoryCorps listening party on February 4, 2016 at the New Holly Gathering Hall.
Delvecchio: So what did they tell you then about your prognosis?
Valdez: They said because there have been so much damage that it was irreversible, so eventually I would need a kidney donation.
Delvecchio: You must have had thoughts of dying?
Delvecchio: What was that like?
Valdez: I was really petrified. I was really afraid. I even had nightmares.
Delvecchio: Do you remember when we first met?
Valdez: My memory is we met during the deaf youth drama program. You were working at the theater and watching you do what you do inspired me to be even better. I wanted to be you!
Delvecchio: You were on kid patrol. You worked with my husband, John, who is deaf.
Valdez: John knew that I was a newbie and he took me under his wing and it's something I'll never forget.
Delvecchio: You met John again?
Valdez: I was dealing with all my kidney stuff and this cold December day in 2005 I was visiting an interpreter friend of mine, Joannie Bishop. She told me that she was the interpreter for Santa Claus, the American Sign Language Santa for deaf kids at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle.
And I said how cool, I have to check that out. She was up to the fifth floor. I'm sitting there. Santa is in his chair.
I’m signing to Joni and she’s asking about my health. I’m signing I’ve been put on the list and my percentage is down to 20 - 30 percent and looks like I need a transplant. And Santa is watching me sign.
Then I see this hand wave in my peripheral vision. I said me? He goes, I was listening to your story. L-A-R-R-Y? He fingerspells my name. And I went, Santa knows my name! Santa really exists!
So I say yeah, Larry Valdez. He was yeah yeah that's right. It's John, Anne Delvecchio’s husband. We started talking he says, I was watching the conversation and it sounds like you know you need a kidney.
Then he says you're not going to believe this, but my wife Anne Delvecchio is in the process of being a benevolent donor at Swedish Hospital. I’m like, no way! He says what’s your blood type? I said, O-positive. He goes HEY, Anne’s O-positive!
Delvecchio: Merry Christmas!
So as I recall he had gotten your e-mail address. So I got on the computer the next day and I wrote this email just saying, hi Larry, I don't know if you remember me. My husband John tells me that you might be needing a kidney and I don't know if this is going to be the right thing for us but I'm in the process of getting ready to donate my kidney to somebody who needs it. I don't see why I couldn't just give it to you.
Valdez: Destiny! The thing that got me was that you didn't even blink an eye. You were so willing. It was like you just opened up not just your life, but your heart and just said I'm here to help you out, and if I can help you out I’ll help you out. I remember having that feeling that why would anybody do this for me.
Delvecchio: I mean you know, when Santa Claus comes home and tells you, you kind of need to listen.
Valdez: Absolutely. That's why you're so special. You’ll always be my guardian angel.