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Denver family finds life-saving transplant program that focuses on Hispanic community

Denver family finds life-saving transplant program
Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-03 19:40:22-05

DENVER — Martha Aguayo de Mendez will be the first to tell you her family, especially her granddaughters, mean everything to her. 

“Son, pues, todo,” she explained in Spanish as she watches Natalia, 3, and Daniela, 10, play soccer on the living room floor.

Seventeen months ago, the family focus quickly shifted to Martha when she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Her daughter, also named Martha, explained how her mom went to see a doctor, and they discovered she had high blood pressure and hydronephrosis, which is the swelling of one or both kidneys. The grandmother ended up in the hospital.

“She was in the hospital for about two weeks and the emergency care or ICU for six days, so it's been a rollercoaster, especially because she was working," the daughter said. "She was, you know, doing her regular life, and after that, I had to make the decision for her that she couldn't work anymore.”

The 66-year-old Martha went from feeling fine and working full-time to not working at all and spending her days waiting, wondering and worrying what her future held.

“When we were referred to the transplant and living donor program, she said, 'No, no, I don't want that,'” said daughter Martha.

The daughter then turned to her mom.

“¿Por qué dijiste que no querías?,'" she asked her in Spanish. "Why not?"

"Me da miedo," her mother responded.

Her mother was afraid.

“But when they told us that I could possibly be a donor for her, I said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Yes, 100%' on being a donor. And she said, 'No.' Because of my girls, she said, 'I don't want nothing to happen to you. I will rather something happened to me,'” Martha said of the conversation with her mother.

It was the National Kidney Foundation office in Denver that provided the family the information they needed to move forward. The National Kidney Foundation also put the family in touch with UCHealth’s Hispanic Transplant Team, the only team like it in the Rocky Mountain Region.

Dr. Sixto Giusti leads the team.

“For patients who are on dialysis, there’s like a 50% mortality at five years. So, you can see the importance of getting them sooner rather than later to transplant," Giusti said. "We know that Hispanics have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, but at the same time, they take longer to be referred. And once they are referred, they take longer to be transplanted, so there are still clearly barriers. As a transplant community, we can do a better job.”

That’s what his team at UCHealth is attempting to do, reaching out to candidates in underserved communities.

“Me, understanding both English and Spanish, this place is intimidating, so I can really understand when somebody who is coming to a new place, in a different language, not understanding English, being lost in translation in the system. It can be very, very intimidating," said Giusti.

What’s different about the Hispanic Transplant Center is not just the signs in Spanish you see in the hallways.

“We have nephrologists, we have coordinators, nurses, finance people, social workers, pharmacy people, who all speak Spanish and understand the culture,” said Giusti.

That was key to Martha and her family. It gave her the knowledge and comfort to move forward.

The one new development, Martha's daughter found out, was that she and her mother were not liver compatible.

“Yes, we're not compatible. But thankfully, there is another option, which is the donor exchange," the daughter said. "So I will be donating.”

The fact that they were not compatible ended up being a blessing, because they were worried about having surgery at the same time. They also worried about who would take care of little Natalia and Daniela.

”She's the only one that I can trust 100% with my girls, so with the kidney exchange, or the organ exchange, I could have the possibility to schedule it. So she could take care of my girls and myself, and then I could do the same when it comes to that point,” the younger Martha said.

Because in this tight-knit family, that’s just what you do.

“She gave me life," the daughter said. "So this is this is the least that I can do.”

To learn more about the program, visit Para español, llame al 720.848.0005 y presione 8.

The National Kidney Foundation is hosting a fundraiser on March 9, and the Hispanic Transplant Team will be receiving an award for their work. For more information, click here.

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