Woman gets lifesaving kidney transplant, thanks to New Jersey senator

A New Jersey woman finally has a new kidney, more than a year after a lifesaving transplant fell apart at the last minute.

When Nina Saria awoke from surgery last month, she said she asked whether she got a new kidney as planned. The nurse responded, “yes,” but Nina said she felt she needed to ask again. Her disbelief is understandable perhaps, given what she’d been through before, reports CBS News contributor Jamie Wax .

We first met Saria in 2015, she was getting ready for surgery.

“I just can’t wait to live a normal life again,” Saria said.

Glenn Calderbank had responded to her husband’s post on Craigslist, “looking for a brave person” to donate a kidney. She told us she was looking forward to coming off dialysis and spending more time with her son.

“I feel like this is -- what is happening, it’s a dream. And it’s not real,” Saria said then.

And she was right. The dream didn’t become real -- at least not then.

While we reported outside the hospital on the very day of the surgery, inside, there were complications.

“One of the surgeon woke me up and said, ‘Nina you’re going to wake up.’ I said, ‘Did I get a kidney already?’ He said, ‘No sorry, the donor had it a problem.’”

Surgeons halted the operation shortly after it had begun, over concerns about the state of Calderbank’s organs.

“I didn’t think it would ever happen for me because I had... at least two and a half years -- everything went against me,” Saria said.

Saria had found another match in her mother. But there was a problem. Her mom lived half a world away in the country of Georgia.

“Tell me about the biggest roadblocks and just trying to make this good thing happen for a citizen,” Wax said.

“It’s called the State Department,” Senator Bob Menendez said, laughing.

Menendez got involved after the feds, on multiple occasions, rejected the family’s visa request.

“When mother comes in and tells you, ‘I’m going to go to United States only to go there and donate a kidney and save my daughter’ and you tell her, ‘I know it’s an emergency but I’m sorry, I cannot let you go,’ you know, what can you say?” Saria said.

“Something is wrong there,” Wax said.

“Yes,” Saria said.

“When you have an American citizen’s life who is depending upon this visa, then that should call for a higher level of engagement and not a checklist,” Menendez said.

Menendez helped the family qualify for “humanitarian parole” -- a step federal immigration officials describe as an “extraordinary measure” -- allowing foreigners to enter the U.S. “for a temporary period...due to a compelling emergency.”

And one year to the day after her original transplant fell through, Nina Saria was back in the same hospital. This time, she entered with her mother and left with a new kidney. 

“I’ve never been a person who goes to church or, you know, I did believe God but not that much. But that day when I came out of the surgery, that was the day I looked up and I said, ‘Thank you God. I know you’re there,’” Saria said.

Saria said her recovery is going well and what she feels like a different person these days.

As for Glenn Calderbank, the original Craigslist donor, we reached out to him Tuesday. He said he’s in good health and that he couldn’t be happier that Saria’s long wait for a new kidney is over.