A Second Chance at Life

Appeared in Brownsville Herarld and Valley Morning Star on June 30, 2013

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett
Victor Blanco had big dreams as a kid. Although he comes from a humble background, raised in San Benito, he worked hard from a young age, and took advantage of every opportunity to get to college. His dream was to become a doctor, and eventually have his own TV show to give medical advice to viewers. By his mid-twenties he had graduated from UTPA and was working hard, having landed a job at a local television station. Then in 2010 his feet began to swell. He went to the doctor and many tests later, he learned that his kidneys had never fully developed and were not properly filtering fluids. He immediately began dialysis, and doctors said he needed a kidney transplant to survive. He was added to the transplant waiting list in 2011. While awaiting his transplant, he endured grueling dialysis treatments three days a week. “It was really hard! I had to readjust my diet completely, limit fluid intake, change my sleep and work schedule.

While the cause of Victor’s condition is not related to chronic disease, the majority of people who are on dialysis arrive at this difficult place due to diabetes and high blood pressure.

It is estimated that almost 8 million adults 20 years and older have moderate or severe chronic kidney disease (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases 2004) in the U.S. alone. Many of those progress to End Stage Renal Failure (ESRF) requiring dialysis or transplant. Rates are significantly higher among Hispanics and especially high in our community. The most common causes of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) are diabetes and high blood pressure. These conditions can affect the kidneys. ESRD almost always comes after chronic kidney disease. The kidneys may slowly stop working over 10 – 20 years before end-stage disease results.  Medical expenditure for dialysis and transplant create a financial burden for both individuals and the community. The average kidney transplant costs approximately $250,000 and even dialysis treatment costs tens of thousands of dollars.

“If you have the opportunity to prevent going through this (dialysis, transplant), do everything possible to take care of yourself. I didn’t have a choice since I was born with my condition. But many people in their 20s and 30s who don’t take care of themselves now are going to end up with chronic kidney conditions or even kidney failure later if they don’t make those healthy lifestyle changes. Believe me, exercising and making healthier food choices now is a lot easier than disrupting your life and enduring dialysis later!”

According to his Facebook page, created to raise money for his treatment and to educate the community and provide organ awareness, “Victor has never given up hope and keeps a very positive attitude. He relies on his faith and his strong support system to help him through the difficult times, and he’s grateful to have wonderful family and friends fighting for him. This active 29-year-old even ran two miles after every dialysis appointment. He’s very careful about following his diet and fluid restrictions to remain as healthy as possible.”

Victor is an optimist and believes the support of his mom, sister and friends, have helped him get through this difficult experience. In Spring 2013 he received a call that there was a donor and he needed to get to Galveston quickly. The transplant was successful and he is back at work already.

“I am so lucky to be alive, and to be given this second chance at life. I’m grateful to the person who donated kidneys. I even have a kidney brother—a patient who received the other kidney from the person who passed away and so generously donated organs. I keep in touch daily with Humberto, my “kidney brother” and we support each other to make healthy choices.”

Victor says his transplant has gone so smoothly because of the great transplant team at UTMB in Galveston, and because he has always tried to be in good shape. “Even when I was on dialysis, I had fewer symptoms (shortness of breath, weakness) than other patients at the dialysis center. I would come home and run 2 miles so I could sweat the fluids out (excretion of fluid is important during dialysis). Also, following the diet regimen is key.”

He also believes staying at work helped him through dialysis. “I sat down with my employer when I was first told I would have to do a 3 times a week dialysis. It was scheduled at 5:00 am so I could still make it into work. My employer then (CBS affiliate in Harlingen) was very supportive. After the transplant, I have really tried to eat smaller portions, drink water and exercise regularly. At first I was only able to walk, but now I am feeling able to go back to the gym and run. I’ve gained 5 pounds but I plan to stop there. It’s common for people to gain a lot of weight after a transplant. They overdue the junk food, start drinking sodas, doing things they couldn’t when they were on dialysis.

The doctors just cleared me to go back to the gym.  My goal is to run 5 miles. I want to stay healthy, proactive, and keep promoting organ awareness in the community. I also want to support other patients who are seeking transplant. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to share and support others, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)  “For more information about organ awareness, go to http://www.txorgansharing.org/