a friend in need
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IT SEEMS THAT DANNY, Jorge and Marc's lives have always been intertwined. They grew up in the same town, went to the same schools, attended UCLA as political science majors and all became teachers at their alma mater, La Puente High School, where Danny teaches history, Jorge teaches world studies and civics and economics, and Marc coaches track (he also teaches at Valinda School of Academics in the same Hacienda La Puente Unified School District).
Danny and Marc's friendship began 15 years ago, when Marc moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles. They worked together at McDonald's during high school, double-dated and played pickup games of basketball. Both are witty and have something of a sarcastic streak that encourages them to play off of one another. They grew so close they decided they would stick together when it came time for college.
"We kind of influenced each other to go to UCLA," says Marc.
Says Danny: "Marc helped to push me, like a competition. He always did well, so I had to keep up."
Jorge, on the other hand, is like a younger brother to Danny.
"I've basically known him since he was 1," says Danny, who was a friend of Jorge's older brother growing up. It was Jorge's mother who, when Danny's own mother died of breast cancer when he was 8, would come to elementary school to pick him up on days when he got sick.
In older-brother fashion, Danny gave Jorge college advice. When Jorge decided on UCLA, Danny showed him around, helping him to get acclimated to the sprawling campus and to find a campus job. When Jorge began teaching, his first job was as a substitute, covering Danny's classes whenever he was sick and had to be hospitalized.
"He's always been a real positive role model for me," says Jorge, "always so optimistic and forward-looking. I've always looked up to him for his guidance and advice."
Says Danny: "Most people my age don't have friends that go way back like these two. I've been very lucky to have these friends."
Wednesday, April 25: Danny, Jorge and Marc are prepped for surgery. Lying on a gurney next to Danny, Jorge turns his head to look over at his friend. "Hang in there," he says. Danny remains very quiet but responds with a smile of gratitude.
At 7:30 a.m. they are wheeled into separate operating rooms at USC's University Hospital outside of downtown Los Angeles. On this day -- his 6-year-old son Tizoc's birthday -- Danny Monarrez is reborn.
In a four-hour procedure, three teams of surgeons headed by Vaughn Starnes -- the pioneer of the living-donor lobar lung-transplant procedure -- remove both of Danny's mottled, scarred, barely functioning lungs, the lower right lobe from Jorge and the lower left lobe from Marc (leaving four intact lobes in each donor). The two donor lobes -- perfect, healthy, pink tissue -- are sutured into Danny's chest.