A dedicated public servant, Hendry County Firefighter and dispatcher for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Melissa Franco doesn’t let the hours of dialysis and battling Chronic Kidney Disease- stop her from hardwork. Doctors have told her she will need another kidney because her illness has progressed to End Stage Renal Disease, the last stage of Chronic Kidney Disease.
When asked how she would describe herself, Melissa Franco said, “I’m 25 years old. Only child. Hispanic. I speak English and Spanish fluently. I’m a huge baseball fan (have had season tickets for Tampa Bay Rays multiple years). I enjoy working night shift and absolutely am obsessed with my Dodge Challenger. I’m a hard worker. My parents raised me to always work hard for what you want and to never give up. Regardless of what obstacles may get in the way. I’m a very compassionate individual and very approachable.”
“Growing up, my first language was Spanish so I struggled during my elementary days trying to fit in and communicate with my classmates. Over time my accent went away, and I could speak English fluently. My family grew up poor, but over the years we’ve been successful in launching transporting carrier companies run by my parents and still do to this day.”
I asked her about her best childhood memory. Franco replied, “My best memory is my school breaks. Summer and winter vacations my parents and I would travel all over the country on road trips as my dad was a truck driver. I saw snow for the first time when I was 7 years old in Lake Tahoe Nevada and I fell in love with the scenery. I’ve visited every state except for Hawaii and Alaska.”
“There are many people who have influenced me over the years. I couldn’t just name one person. There are many individuals that have come across my life that have inspired me and taught me life lessons that have helped me change my mindset on certain things and how to view my lifestyle. Many of those individuals are my brother and sisters in the first responders field,” Franco said. We then spoke about how important teachers are and the lasting impacts they have on us. Franco said she remembers one teacher in particular, “Mrs. Sherry Elliott, I never had a class with her but she was my mentor and advisor for one of the clubs I sat as president, SADD. She always was there for me with advice and a great friend to talk to when I had troubles at school or in life in general. She was always pushing me to become a better individual and because of her I am where I am.”
“One of my ultimate career goals to become certified in Fire, EMS, and Law Enforcement. Eventually I’d like to become a SWAT Medic within the sheriffs office. I enjoy working in the field and out with the public being able to give back to my community makes me happy. So I continue to strive in my education to become the best I can be for the community when they need me whether they call in on 911, as I’m also a dispatcher, whether I’m responding as a Firefighter EMT on a truck, or as a law enforcement officer,” Franco explained passionately.
I asked this determined young woman about what she is proud of, and she replied, “I’m most proud of my mindset. I used to think negativity and always blamed myself for not being able to do certain things or not reaching my goals but over the years I’ve learned to stay positive regardless of the outcomes. I’m always smiling even on my bad days and I always try to make other people’s day better. I’m most proud of knowing that my friends and family can come to me at any point in time and they know I’d drop everything for them to help. “What’s a typical day like for Franco?
“Depending on the day, on my work days I work 12 hr shifts on night at sheriffs officer as a dispatcher in Naples. So I spend about 3 hours commuting round trip to work, 1.5 hour drive one way, and then I come home to sleep and do dialysis for 6.5 hours. One of my days off I usually spend it at the doctors office and running errands while trying to spend some time with family and friends. Regardless of my current disability of dialysis, I still maintain a full time job working as 911 Dispatcher at Collier County Sheriffs Office in Naples, I still volunteer as a FF/EMT with Montura Flaghole Volunteer Fire Department and active in non profits within SWFL; currently an advisory board member for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) SWFL. I love my jobs and my community and I strive to become the best for them.”
What would she do differently if given the opportunity?
“Honestly, if I were to receive a kidney transplant the only thing I’d do different is focus more on my athletic abilities stay in shape and participate in more 5k races and obstacles courses competitions. Before dialysis those were my hobbies and they kept me fit and happy. I miss it very much.”
She goes on to say that she finds inspiration in those who are around her, “Everyone fights an internal battle and you can’t tell unless they tell you. Some of the strongest people I know are fighting their own battles whether it be physically or mentally but they amount of the strength and courage they display everyday shows that I can do it too. It’s not easy being with renal failure for 8 years and 2 of those years is Hooked up to a machine daily just so you can survive.”
“I am most proud of my awards I’ve received in both fire department and at the sheriffs office. I was voted firefighter of the year in 2017. At my agency I received two life save awards for saving the life by provided CPR instructions over the phone in Spanish to a mother who’s 10 day old baby was not conscious and not breathing but he did survive. Also receiving a life save award for saving the life of mid 30s year old man from a drug overdose,” Franco said, beaming with pride.
She openly admits she, like all of us, has made some mistakes along the way. “I’ve made many mistakes. One of them being a young 18 year old and not taking my diagnosis seriously. I didn’t think much I still went on about my life and didn’t realize that some of lifestyle eating habits were unhealthy and sometimes I wonder if there was anything I could have done differently.” But she pushes through even her worst times by being grateful and happy to be alive saying, “I remember that I’m alive. My hearts beating and my lungs are breathing. Some people don’t get that opportunity or it gets taken from them so I’m thankful I’m alive and have the support system that I do from my family and everyone in first responders fields.”
One of the most defining moments of her love happened on April 16, 2018. “I’ll never forget that day as it was the day I went into cardiac arrest after a dialysis treatment at a center and I was declared clinically dead before I was resuscitated by the medical team that responded to my emergency. Since that day I’ve had a more appreciative look at life and all of the little things it comes with.”
Her personal motto is to always move forward. “Keep smiling. Never give up. I live by these mottos every single day. It keeps me going with everything going on.”
Her biggest challenges, “My health. Everyday it’s a internal challenge but I stay positive regardless of the situation and make the best of it day by day. My health has good days and bad days. But with my family by my side it gets better.”
What makes her happiest?
“Baseball! I am a huge baseball fan whether it be minor leagues or the major league I enjoy going out to games and watching the teams play. I look forward to spring training every year and regular season as I have season tickets for my favorite team Tampa Bay Rays.”
What advice does she have to offer to local youth?
“Remember the situation you’re in today is temporary. Tomorrow is a fresh new day. Also make the best of everyday and give it 100%. Never let anything steer you away from you goals. You may have to change your path but never your goals.”
If anyone is interested in finding out more about how to help in becoming a live kidney donor they can reach Melissa Franco via email at Kidney4Franco@gmail.com or they can contact Tampa General Hospital Live Kidney Donor at (813) 844-5669 and request to be tested for patient Melissa A Franco DOB 7/8/1994.