San Dimas man in business of saving lives
Approaching those who have lost loved ones is never easy, but Max Calderon of San Dimas knows he has to do it in order to save others' lives.
"To me, it's trying to save another person's life. That is my motivation more than anything else - staying up, getting two to three hours of sleep and still coming to work," the 47-year-old said.
Calderon is a family care specialist supervisor at OneLegacy in Los Angeles. His job is to screen and approach families of hospital patients on life support about organ donation, as well as oversee a staff that does the same.
The nonprofit he works for is an organ and tissue recovery organization that serves 200 hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area and coordinates donation at the time of a person's death.
"Seeing babies alive, hearing stories, letters that say `thank you' ... that motivates me to do what I'm doing. It's touching people's lives," Calderon said.
Particularly for Marie Sabath, the supervisor touched her life.
"I knew it was the right decision to make," the 54-year-old said about consenting to donate the organs of her husband, Fred.
In April 2009, a newlywed Sabath had just lost her husband after five weeks of marriage.
Fred, also called "Fritz," had a stroke and was taken to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where the 56-year-old was declared brain dead from continuous bleeding.
"I had no idea five weeks after we said,
`I do,' he would die," Sabath said. "This was catastrophic since this was the second husband I had to bury."
Sabath's previous husband died of cancer five years prior.
On the drive to St. Joseph's, Calderon listened to sad music - part of his routine to prepare himself mentally. On that day, the song was "Sabor a Mi."
"This is a feeling kind of job. You have to feel it. It's not physical. It's mental. If you're not mentally prepared, you're not going to do a good job," Calderon said.
Arriving at the hospital early in the morning, Calderon waited until early evening before he spoke to Sabath about donating her husband's organs.
"It takes time - hours and sometimes days - for them to actually understand," Calderon said about many families understanding the donation process.
Calderon knows that to build a family's confidence and trust, it takes a clear mind and heart before they are willing to donate their loved one's organs.
In Sabath's case, Calderon was "so kind and so sensitive and so conscious of all of the nuances," Sabath said.
"He figuratively held my hand through the whole process," the she added. "I knew that was the right decision to make."
In his years at OneLegacy, Calderon has handled each case differently, he said. The way he approaches a family is based on instinct and experience.
"Sometimes, when you do it from the heart, it's an instinct," Calderon said. "Sometimes being quiet is just the best answer. You don't need to give them an answer."
Calderon spends every other week of each month "on call," which means he can receive a case any time from 8 a.m. on a Saturday to 8 a.m. the next Saturday.
Even when he's not on duty, his cellular phone is constantly buzzing and beeping with updates from his nine-person team.
Calderon started as a licensed X-ray technician at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles on the kidney and liver transplant team. Witnessing many patients die while on the transplant waiting list, he decided he wanted to accelerate the process by joining OneLegacy.
More than 12 years later, Calderon has a 93 percent consent rate this year - most specialists average 65 to 75 percent. Calderon has been responsible for several hundreds of donor consents at OneLegacy, including 89 his first year.
In 2008, Calderon received the Award of Distinction from The Organization of Transplant Professionals (NATCO). This award honors an individual for their career-long achievements.