by Victor R. Martinez \ El Paso Times
CLINT -- All Luis Acuña wanted was an opportunity to live out his years comfortably.
And for the 72-year-old Clint resident to do so, he needed a kidney transplant.
"My kidneys failed and I was on dialysis for two years,"said Acuña, who has been diabetic since 1971. "It was a very difficult two years, possibly the hardest two years I've had in my life."
The dialysis for his failed kidney -- a victim of diabetes and high blood pressure -- made him weary and thirsty.
"I spent between four and five hours away from home, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, during dialysis," he said. "Those 15 hours a week were wasted. There were a lot of things I could have done at home and with my family. Plus, after dialysis, your whole energy is drained from you."
He was restricted to one liter of liquid a day.
On Sept. 9, he received the call that people on the transplant list can't wait to get.
A perfect match was found.
"I feel great and it's not even four months yet," he said. "I still have a ways to go, but I feel like I'm at 80 percent. I'm doing a lot more exercise, I eat a lot better and my energy level is high and my blood work is almost perfect."
Plus, his liquid intake is now up to four liters.
Tiffany Denson, a 39-year-old from San Antonio, donated the kidney.
"We had an immediate connection," she said of meeting Acuña. "I keep telling him É there is no reason why our paths should have crossed. There is something much bigger and powerful working around us then just ourselves."
The transplant has given Acuña a chance to do the things he loves -- spending time with his six children and 12 grandchildren and fishing and camping in Ruidoso.
It has also affected Denson's life.
"Aside from raising a child, it is the most humbling experience of my life," said Denson, the director of Court Appointed Special Advocates in San Antonio. "I just don't know that you are given that opportunity in life too often to do something so much bigger and powerful than yourself. It's given me pause. I have shifted in my understanding of what is important in life."
Acuña said that because of Denson, he now has a second chance at a better life.
"She is my guardian angel," he said. "My family loves her so much. We keep in touch, and I can't thank her enough."
Denson's generosity led to an unexpected chain of events.
Acuña's 21-year-old grandson Daniel Soto (who wasn't a match for his grandfather) decided to be a donor, too.
His kidney matched 50-year-old Robert Arredondo, who lives near Corpus Christi.
Then Arredondo's wife, Angelmira, decided to keep the chain of giving going by donating a kidney. Her kidney matched Lucero Conchas, a 32-year-old woman living in El Paso.
Before donating his kidney, Soto didn't think it was such a big deal.
"I was just trying to help somebody (his grandfather) who has been there for me my whole life," he said. "But after I went through it, I realized it was a big sacrifice but it was worth it."
When Soto, who was tested in February, found out he was not a match for his grandfather, he was disappointed at first, but the chance to help someone else in need of a kidney inspired him.
It wasn't until August that he received the news that he was a match with Arredondo.
"It's an overwhelming feeling knowing somebody across the state is walking around with a part of me," Soto said. "People think organ donation is a big sacrifice, and of course it is, but if you are young and healthy, don't be afraid of helping and possibly saving someone's life."
All the transplant operations in this circle were performed in September at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.
The only hospital in El Paso performing kidney transplants is Las Palmas Medical Center, which opened its Kidney Transplant Services Center in 2009.
Dr. Hector J. Diaz-Luna is the program director of the Las Palmas kidney transplant program. He was also the surgeon who had performed kidney transplants at Sierra Medical Center until September 2007.
During that two-year span, El Pasoans seeking transplants had to look to hospitals in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.
The University Health System and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio recently opened a clinic in El Paso to make it easier for transplant recipients to receive care before and after their operations. The clinic will help minimize cost of travel and time away from work for patients who otherwise would need to go to San Antonio.
Four of the six patients who were part of the giving chain live in El Paso.
Dr. Alfonso Chavez, who is with the Nephrology Associates of El Paso, said the partnership with University Transplant Center is invaluable to El Paso.
"There was a need for a clinic locally that represented the University of San Antonio," he said. "I thought if they had an office here, it would be easier for the El Paso area to be provided for."
Representatives from the University Transplant Center came in and looked at several locations before settling on the Stanton Professional Building, 1100 N. Stanton, Suite 401.
"The beauty of this is they come in as a team, they see every patient, every donor and they see patients who have already been transplanted," Chavez said. "The patients avoid the expenses of traveling to San Antonio to be seen again."
Chavez said his wife, Georgina, has also benefited from University Transplant Center's services.
"My wife is a recipient of a kidney," he said. "The transplant program treated us with excellent care. We are both very appreciative of their work and expertise. We are proud to have this clinic here because it is very much needed."
Diabetes is the most common cause of renal failure and, because diabetes runs in families, said Dr. Charles Nolan, medical director of University Transplant Center's kidney program, it is often difficult to find a relative eligible to donate.
"Many of our patients' family members already have diabetes or are at risk of developing it," Nolan said. "For this reason we are seeing an increase in donation from non-related donors."
Pam Silvestri, spokeswoman for the Southwest Transplant Alliance in Dallas, said having the San Antonio clinic here is a positive thing.
"It's good for El Paso," Silvestri said from Dallas. "You don't want your choices to be limited. There is only one hospital in El Paso that does transplants, so if people need to get transplants of any kind, the best thing to do is get the most information you can about where transplants are done and what the success rates are so that you are taking your very personal business to the right place for you."
Silvestri recommends logging on to optn.transplant.hrsa.gov where the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network provides information on the hospitals that perform transplants and the success rate of those operations.
"With transplants, people think there is only one hospital and they have to go there," she said. "It's good that there are options and find out what option is best for you. It's great for the people of El Paso to have choices."
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6128.
Become a donor
Join the organ donor registry by visiting an office of the Texas Department of Public Safety or by logging on to www.donatelifetexas.org.
For more information on the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, log on to www.universityhealthsystem.com or www.uthscsa.edu.
For information on the Las Palmas Medical Center's Kidney Transplant Services Clinic, call 521-1828.
For information on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, where information on hospitals that perform transplants and the success rate of those operations is provided, log on to optn.transplant.hrsa.gov.