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By Dawn L. Marsh

We all know how much teachers are willing to give of themselves — particularly to their students and fellow educators. For Alexandria “Alex” Fabbro, it’s quite literal.

Fabbro and her friend and colleague Shirley Chan are both special education teachers at Rio Vista Elementary School in El Monte and members of El Monte Elementary Teachers Association. Chan has been teaching children with special needs for the last 10 years. Fabbro has been on a journey as a general education teacher and high school math teacher, and now has found her calling as a teacher for children with autism. She has been teaching at Rio Vista for the past three years.

Rio Vista Elementary staff in a show of support for Shirley Chan, front left, and Alex Fabbro, front right. Front row, left to right: Diana Luu, Gloria Guevera, Nancy Briones, Adriana Valadez, Dawn Marsh, Michelle Rivera, Liziel Zapata, Hilda Diaz. Second row: Thomas Huerta, Sandra Ibanez, Brianna Rodriguez, Virginia Zendejas, Rosa Narez, Claudia Meza. Back row: Betty Silva, Diana Martinez, Marrissa Calderon, Christian Chidez, Joseph Briones, Virginia Perez, Zaret Vizcarra, Vince Gaytan, Sarah Gilbert.

When Chan was 15, she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Inflammation from lupus can affect body organs and systems such as joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.

Chan, now in her 40s, was recently forced to go on daily dialysis treatments after lupus had compromised her kidneys. The treatments severely impacted her quality of life.

“Our job as special educators in the autism wing is pretty exhausting,” Fabbro told a local radio station. “After teaching all day, Shirley would have to go home and then do dialysis.”

A kidney transplant was the only way Chan would be able to get a healthy kidney and live independently without being tethered to her dialysis equipment. She had been on the kidney donor list at Scripps Memorial Hospital for the last few years, but time was running out.

Shirley Chan rings a victory bell in the hospital when she checks out.

In September 2018 another colleague and friend of Chan’s, Betty Silva, sent out a letter to the staff at Rio Vista Elementary asking if anyone would be willing to become a kidney donor for Chan. When Fabbro received the letter, she did not hesitate. She told Chan that she would gladly donate a kidney to help save her life.

“I thought, ‘I’m athletic, and all of my health issues have been self-inflicted sports injuries,’ ” Fabbro said.

Over several months, Fabbro endured multiple medical exams and tests to see if she was a match for Chan. In the event that they were not compatible, Fabbro volunteered her kidney in exchange for one that was compatible with Chan’s anatomy. Fortunately, Fabbro turned out to be a perfect match, and the pair started to work closely with their medical teams to plan the final steps of the transplant.

Alex Fabbro

The operation took place April 23 at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego. Fabbro and Chan spent three days in the hospital, then were released. Fabbro returned home, but Chan stayed close to the hospital for the next few weeks for checkups and tests.

Chan is overwhelmed and overjoyed at the generosity of her friend, and happy to regain her independence again. “I am so touched by her kindness,” she says. “To offer herself, and not just herself, but her time. It was just really humbling and amazing.”

Fabbro, meanwhile, is counting down the days until she can return to her active lifestyle. Both women are thriving.

I can speak for everyone at Rio Vista Elementary when I say that Alex Fabbro is our hero! This type of sacrifice and genuine love and compassion for another person speaks volumes of her character, and is yet another example of educators’ giving spirit. She deserves our deepest thanks and respect for her most precious gift, the gift of life!

Dawn Marsh is an education specialist at Rio Vista Elementary School and member of El Monte Elementary Teachers Association.