Westminster grad heads to new school, with new lease on life

By any standard, Westminster High School graduate Josh Saltz is an impressive young man. He's a quality athlete who excels in math and engineering and who takes the time to help other students with their homework — yet never brags about it.

By any standard, Westminster High School graduate Josh Saltz is an impressive young man. He's a quality athlete who excels in math and engineering, and takes the time to help other students with their homework — yet never brags about it.

Saltz capped it all off as one of the 369 students college


ho graduated from Westminster High School on Tuesday evening.

Underlying all of those accomplishments, however, is an added challenge — a form of adversity that has made all of these things more difficult for Saltz, although he barely mentions it in conversation.

"My kidney function is under 5 percent," he said. "I have a chronic kidney disease known as Alport syndrome. It affects pretty much every part of my life."

When Saltz first spoke with the Times on May 23, the disease had progressed to a crisis point. Like his older brother, Matthew, who also suffered from Alport syndrome, Josh Saltz was in need of a transplant.

"If I don't get a transplant in the next few weeks, I will I have to go on dialysis," he said at the time.

On May 25, Saltz's health had deteriorated to the point that he had to begin dialysis. But just a few days later, he received a ray of hope.

"I will be having a transplant on June 20, so I will only have to be on dialysis for a few weeks," Saltz wrote in an email. "The living donor is a family friend."

Despite such a stressful health situation, not just the draining effects of the disease but the not knowing if and when he would receive a transplant, Saltz's commitment to school was such that many people were unaware of the severity of the challenge he faced.

"He never let his condition be an excuse or anything like that," said Scott Tobias, an engineering teacher at Carroll County Career and Technology Center who taught Saltz in his senior year.

"To be honest, I never knew his condition was as serious as it was until the night of our award ceremony at the Tech Center. It was told to us that he would be going in for the dialysis treatment."

At Westminster High, Saltz was in social studies teacher Clay Matthews's advisory, a sort of home room type class period that meant Matthews saw him every day for the four years of high school.

"Despite all the health issues he has had, he has managed to be here very nearly every day, every year — his attendance has been extremely good," Matthews said of Saltz. "He's not the athletic kid that goes around wearing it on his sleeve all the time, even though he's really good at playing at soccer. He's a quiet kid, very polite, very academic."

A member of the National Honors Society, Saltz would often leave the advisory to tutor other students who needed help with their work, according to Matthews, and would often bring in the sophisticated 3-D printed engineering projects he had worked on at the Tech Center.

Westminster senior Josh Saltz photographed at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
Westminster senior Josh Saltz photographed at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

"He's a quiet, confident young man. ... He's like a sponge and just soaked everything in and he applied what we were teaching him to the activities we did," Tobias said of Saltz's work in the engineering classroom. "He was one of those kids you love to have in class."


In a characteristically humble fashion, Saltz describes his attraction to engineering in fairly casual terms.

"I came to join engineering because I have a passion for the math, the science stuff in school," he said. "I thought engineering would be cool, so I came here to see what it was like."

It turned out he liked engineering quite a bit, and Virginia Tech liked Saltz's engineering work, too — he has been accepted and plans to begin attending in the fall.

And yet this, too, is a decision that was impacted by his kidney disease, which has slowed his growth and left him anemic and easily tired, so Division I sports at a large college — Saltz plays soccer and baseball — are out of reach.

"I had to decide between going to a smaller school to play a sport, or to go to a bigger school and have the big college experience," he said. "I think it was smart to go with just getting the education first at a nice engineering school, and then, maybe later on, try to get back into sports."

In that hope, Saltz has a precedent and role model in Matthew, who in 2014 was given a kidney by their father, Michael Saltz.

"My brother set a really good example. He came back from his transplant to play soccer his senior year," Josh Saltz said. "It really showed me that just because you have this condition doesn't mean you can't still do what you want to do."

The timing of his transplant couldn't be better, Saltz said. He will be required to stay away from large crowds for three months following the surgery, and thanks to the donor, Mary Jane Chapline, he has an opportunity to start college on time and with a new kidney.

Chapline and her family have been friends of the Saltz family for years, she said, attending the same church and Bible study and with their boys at the same schools and on the same teams.

"We knew about the boys' disease when they were young. We expected this day would come, for both of the boys, but I never imagined I could be the solution for Josh," Chapline said. "To be able to share this with them and be the solution for Josh is just amazing. I am so blessed and honored."

That Saltz was such a good athlete and an exceptional student despite all the adversity he has faced, that he remained positive even as the health challenges derailed the life he envisioned for himself, has been moving for Chapline.

"He was on track to be a Division I athlete, and then the disease stunted his growth and probably his confidence," she said. "My prayer would be this kidney gives him back that opportunity."

The summer immediately following graduation may have just become a little more complicated for Saltz — between dialysis and pre-operation prep, he hopes to find time to visit with his friends before heading off to college — but given the circumstances, it's the sweetest kind of busy he could be. Chapline's gift has been moving for him, too.

"I am blessed to have found a donor and for the timing to have worked out perfectly for me to be able to attend the remainder of my high school senior events and also to hopefully be able to go off to Virginia Tech as scheduled," he said. "The generosity of Mary Jane Chapline to provide me with the gift of new life leaves me speechless."


Westminster graduation statistics

•How many graduating: 369


•How many going to a four-year college: 168 students, or 45.9 percent

•How many going to a two-year college: 112 students, or 30.6 percent

•How many going to a technical school: Three students, or 0.82 percent

•How many going into the military: Nine students, or 2.46 percent

•How many are joining the work force: 64 students, or 14.21 percent

•How many are undecided: 13 students, or 6.01 percent