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Monday, January 30, 2023



Nov. 23, 2001 – Justin Dalmida and his wife, Margo Diaz-Dalmida, are survivors. The former St. John couple has come through hurricanes, Dalmida's kidney disease and subsequent transplant, and the death of his brother and father from kidney disease.
And now, 10 days ago, the loss of their home in Georgia to a disastrous fire.
"All the family things I had are gone — the baby pictures, the christening gowns," Diaz-Dalmida says.
While such a string of events would flatten many people, not so this plucky family with many relatives still on St. John.
"We're real strong. We'll get past this. It's just another step," Diaz-Dalmida, 45, says. Still, she adds, it's hard not to think about what the outcome might have been if her husband hadn't been awake when the fire broke out.
The couple moved from St. John to the Atlanta area last winter so Dalmida, 47, could get a kidney transplant. He received his new kidney in July. With that difficult time behind them and his recovery going nicely, he was up at 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 13 to get a good start on his hour-long drive to school. He is studying to be a tractor-trailer driver.
Suddenly, "He heard a popping sound like gunshots," Diaz-Dalmida relates.
When he looked out the window of their first-floor apartment in the southwest Atlanta suburb of College Park, the sky already was orange with flames. The fire was so intense that the people on the top floor of the three-story building had to jump out, Diaz-Dalmida says.
She said her husband woke her, her 87-year-old mother, Elizabeth Diaz, and their son, Joshua, 12. They all fled out the master bedroom window in their pajamas, leaving their possessions behind — including their driver's licenses and credit cards, her mother's teeth and eyeglasses, and Dalmida's all-important supply of anti-rejection medicine.
The building collapsed after they escaped, flattening their apartment.
Fortunately, Diaz-Dalmida grabbed a coat on the way out. It was Dalmida's, and in the pocket was one dose of his medicine.
A year ago, the generosity of St. John residents who held fund-raisers to help the family relocate to Atlanta so Dalmida could get a kidney transplant came as no surprise, Diaz-Dalmida says. But in the days following the fire, she was amazed at how her new neighbors opened their hearts and pocketbooks to help.
"We've only been here less than a year," she muses.
She says that the American Red Cross bought a month's supply of Dalmida's anti-rejection medicine and gave them vouchers for temporary hotel accommodations, food and clothes. And Diaz-Dalmida held onto her job at Delta Air Lines. She had been on a list to be laid off because of the drop in travel in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. But then, she says, her supervisors told they told here they were keeping her on because she really needed a job.
The family has moved to a two-bedroom apartment in the same complex. It's too small, but for now it's home. Since they don't have much in the way of belongings, Diaz-Dalmida says, they aren't too cramped.
"We're camping out," she says.

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