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Face of Defense: Marine Gives Gift of Life to Brother

By Lance Cpl. Robert C. Frenke, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP FOSTER, Japan, Feb. 26, 2008 – Cameron Bonner’s life was in danger, and his best hope for survival came from a U.S. Marine stationed at this Okinawa base.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps 1st Lt. Austin Bonner, left, visits with his brother, Cameron Bonner, in Los Angeles. The lieutenant donated a kidney to his brother, who suffers from lupus. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Cameron’s brother, Marine Corps 1st Lt. Austin Bonner, is the training officer for Marine Air Support Squadron 2, Marine Air Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. He is one of two siblings who were found to be perfect matches as potential kidney donors for Cameron, who was diagnosed in 1998 with lupus, a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells.

The other match, brother Marty Bonner, donated a kidney to Cameron in 2000. But that kidney failed in the fall of 2005, and Cameron’s options were dwindling. Doctors said he was not healthy enough that year to receive a kidney transplant from Austin. Over the next two years, Cameron suffered through having his blood filtered three times a week in a procedure called dialysis.

In Cameron’s case, the disease attacked both kidneys, causing them to fail in 2000. Since his diagnosis, he’s had a brain hemorrhage, a stroke and two open-heart surgeries.

“His quality of life suffered,” Austin said. “He wasn’t able to do a lot. While he was going through dialysis, he couldn’t eat certain foods or drink too much water, and he was tired all the time.”

Once doctors said Cameron was healthy enough to undergo another transplant surgery in 2007, Austin flew home to meet his brother. With his wife’s support and his command’s consent, Austin flew to Los Angeles to undergo the surgery at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Jan. 15.

“His family is very close,” said Amy Bonner, Austin’s wife of 10 years. “I was very honored and proud to know he cared and loved his brother enough to give him another chance at life.”

Before going into surgery, Austin and his wife prepared their son, Andrais, 7, and daughter, Avery, 4, for their father’s upcoming procedure.

“My son was a little more sensitive to me going to the hospital, since he’s a little older,” Austin said. “Our son had a grandmother who passed away, and all he knew was she went to the hospital and died.”

“We reassured him by letting him know that daddy’s going to be fine,” Amy added. “He’s giving a piece of himself to save Uncle Cam. Basically, we talked with them and prayed with them a lot.”

After more than 12 hours of surgery, Austin came out with one less kidney and Cameron with a renewed chance.

“I felt relief when I saw Austin,” Amy said. “To have your husband and brother-in-law in surgery is hard. We were worried about both of them. We were praying to God that the kidney would take, that it will be healthy. Austin did well, and then we were all waiting for Cameron to finish up. He came out, and we got the news that everything went well. By 10 p.m. we were all jumping for joy.”

The doctors released Austin from the hospital Jan. 17, and Cameron on Jan. 19. Austin gave his brother the gift of life, and his wife and others believe he would go through anything for anyone.

“Austin is always putting other people first,” Amy said. “He doesn’t worry about himself. He didn’t care about any of the potential problems; it didn’t matter what he had to go through to help his brother. His brother means the world to him.”

Since the operation, Cameron has had some complications, but the Bonner family and doctors are optimistic about his kidney. Cameron and Austin are doing well.

“I’ve learned from this situation,” Austin said. “A lot of people have expressed their gratitude, and sent out their prayers. It was all worth it just to have my brother.”

(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Robert C. Frenke serves at Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.)

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