By Pete Banda
With Hispanic Heritage Month upon us, it’s worth examining the impact organ donors have on lives, especially Hispanic lives. According to one study, Hispanics account for more than 40 percent of the 11,000 Texans currently awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant. As this need continues to grow, so does the need for collaboration among transplant and donation professionals, community leaders, patients and their families to overcome the challenges in tackling this critical health issue.
For one San Benito native, this issue became all too real when she found herself on the brink of death only to have her life saved by an organ donor. Irma Gonzalez Mills has become a strong advocate for organ donors and understands her life was saved by a donor. The following is the recollection of her ordeal, along with her plea to turn individuals into donors.
“What an honor and a blessing it is for me to have the opportunity to tell my liver transplant story. There are so many people on the waiting list who won’t live long enough to even receive an organ. I come from a family with a history of cirrhosis of the liver. My father passed away when he was 54 years old and a month later, his younger brother passed away. My Grandmother also died of cirrhosis of the liver and eventually I was diagnosed with a fatty liver. I didn’t think that it would become cirrhosis, but that’s exactly what happened.”
“I was so scared and I told my doctor I didn’t want to die. I was told my meld score was 7 and that I wasn’t sick enough for a transplant at that time.”
The Meld score, or Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, ranges from 6 to 40 with a 40 indicating a gravely ill individual who is near death.
“Well, about 3 years later my insurance wouldn’t cover my original Doctor anymore and I was sent to Dr. Phillips. He confirmed that I had severe liver disease and that I would need a full liver transplant. My meld score was going up and I started to have high ammonia levels. Doctor Phillips decided that I needed to see a liver specialist so on Nov. 28 2016 I met the Texas Liver Center’s transplant team for testing. On Dec. 16, 2016 I was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing as potential liver transplant recipient with a med score of 15. I started seeing the team every three months. My meld score started going up every time I went to Houston Memorial Hospital and I knew that I was getting worse. On July 10, 2017 my meld score had reached a dangerous level of 30. I was told I would be lucky to live another month without a transplant.”
“Three days later, on July 12, 2017 I got a phone call that they had a liver for me if I could drive to Houston immediately. I had my surgery the very next day and I gave myself to the Lord. I felt like I wasn’t going to survive, but I did. God gave me life again and I know I am so blessed because of all the people who are not as lucky as I was.”
“It is by God’s grace I am living today. I define myself as a modern day miracle. My struggles and survival have led my life towards healing and strengthening my relationship with God, family, and friends. My testimonies are to encourage, inspire, uplift, and motivate others to be organ donor. I want to comfort people with a natural aspect of giving hope through uplifting stories they can relate to, while going through some of life’s challenges. I want to bring comfort to others through their trails of transplantation.”