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North Carolina Soldier finds his match in love and kidney

By Staff Sgt. Mary Junell | North Carolina National Guard | Dec. 26, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. - In 2001, when Sgt. 1st Class Martcello "Martello" Houston was fresh out of basic training and attending school to become a human resources specialist, he met another young Soldier named Lauren.

The two knew they were a perfect match, quickly fell in love and were married young.

The Houstons have now been married for over 14 years and have three children together.

"My wife means everything to me," said Houston, the Logistics Noncommissioned Officer in Charge with the North Carolina National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion. "She is my best friend, my soul mate, and most importantly my queen. She has given so much of herself to our beautiful family."

On Oct. 17, 2017, Houston's wife actually gave part of herself to her husband after finding out that not only does their love make them a perfect match, their kidneys match as well.

"What many may not know about Martello is that for many years he has been quietly struggling with Polycystic Kidney Disease," Lauren said.

Lauren also said the disease caused her husband to suffer from severe pain, constant fatigue and high blood pressure which eventually led to diabetes, but that he has always tried to stay strong for those around him.

"To many this will be a shock," she said. "If you saw Martello out and about you could never tell what was going on behind closed doors. He did not want to be a burden, but to continue to be someone people could still lean on, so he soldiered on."

Unfortunately, Houston's disease continued to progress and his kidney function fell to below five percent meaning he would need a kidney transplant.

As soon as she heard that her husband would need a transplant, Lauren declared that she would give him her kidney, a decision that she said came easily.

"It wasn't hard for me at all," she said. "I just knew I was supposed to give him this kidney. Before I found out I was even a match, I knew I was going to be his living donor."

The odds of an unrelated person being a match for a kidney transplant is about one in 100,000.

After several tests and evaluations, Lauren found out in the spring of 2017 that she was indeed a perfect match and was able to donate her kidney. 

Although his wife did not give the decision a second thought, Houston was a little worried at first.

"I had mixed feelings," he said. "I was just as concerned about her health as she was mine and I wanted to make sure it was going to be safe for her both mentally and physically. Through prayer and a couple of doctor visits we were assured that she would be fine."

With that news, the Houstons began preparing for the surgery and recovery that followed. They would each need their own 24/7 caregivers to help with the healing process as well as help with their three children ages 8, 10 and 13.

With the surgery over, Lauren, who is no longer in the military but works as a Recruit Sustainment Program Specialist for the North Carolina National Guard, has started back to work calling her recovery "very easy and quick."

For her husband, recovery will take longer. He is taking several medications to ensure that his body does not reject the kidney and has doctors monitoring him multiple times a week.

"There are a lot of intricate details that are observed and records kept during his recovery" Lauren said. "It is all based on helping accept the kidney as best as possible."

Before the surgery, Houstons' children had began asking their mom, "What's wrong with daddy?" and "Why is daddy always sick?"

"When the kidney failure set in, he was in constant pain, his energy level lessened dramatically and who he was, was slowly disappearing," Lauren said. "He was like a shell of himself."

Even though Houston still has a long road of recovery ahead of him, his wife said that he has already shown great strides in his kidney function and his doctors are steadily taking him off of his medications.

"We needed him back," Lauren said. "I'm so glad that God made a way for us to have him back. Now it brings joy to me every time I hear my kids say, ‘Daddy calm down, you are doing too much.'"

Houston is scheduled to return to work after the new year.