“Oscar needs a kidney!” was the cry heard all over Facebook last week after Oscar Lopez’s girlfriend set up a Facebook page to spread awareness about the local man’s situation. Mr. Lopez was born with what is called a horseshoe kidney. He said basically both kidneys were connected in the shape of a horseshoe. No one realized anything was wrong with him until he was in the third grade, he said. He wasn’t feeling very well and asked his teacher if he could go get a drink. She let him go to the water fountain, and he passed out. The next thing he knew, the doctor was telling his mom something was wrong with his kidneys, and when he was about 11 years old, he had surgery to separate the horseshoe into two separate kidneys.
Unfortunately, at some point, the left kidney shriveled up and died, “but I never even noticed it was gone,” he said. He just lived life with one kidney. He had a few follow-up visits with the surgeon and everything seemed fine, so after a year, he was released to go live a fairly normal life. He said he did try to use precautions. He never drank soda or alcohol or anything like that. Although, he said, if he had known he would end up on dialysis anyway, he would have gone ahead and had that Coke!
His life was mostly normal except between second and third grade he gained an incredible amount of weight for no clear reason. By third grade, he weighed 190 pounds, he said. His mother asked the pediatricians why her son was gaining so much weight, but usually they blamed his diet and accused him of sneaking snacks. No one ever thought to connect his weight to his kidney problem.
As a young adult, he began having back problems but assumed they were work related and just rubbed ointments on his back and thought nothing of it. Then, soon after his 23rd birthday, he got sick. He went to see a doctor because he was coughing especially in the morning. “It feels like there is something in my throat,” he said. The doctor just looked at him and said, “Let’s get to the point. You’re not here because you’re sick. You’re here because you’re fat, and you want me to give you something to lose weight. That’s why you are running out of breath.” Mr. Lopez said he thought about it, and he wasn’t going to fight with a doctor. “I guess I’m fat. It might be that,” he thought. He started going to the gym and remembers one day someone left a big stain of sweat on a machine so he went ahead and cleaned it off. “Well,” he said, “I guess my immune system was low because I got real sick and the next thing I knew I had bronchitis.”
He went to the emergency room, and the doctors said he was so sick that if he hadn’t gone in he probably would not have lived through the night. “You are the sickest person here,” the doctors said. “You are dying.” He had pneumonia, anemia, was throwing up blood, hypertension and an ulcer all caused by the kidney failure. During his hospital stay, he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which finally explained the massive weight gain during his childhood.
Mr. Lopez was placed on the transplant list in Orlando and was put on dialysis as he began waiting for a transplant. Mr. Lopez grew up visiting Okeechobee every weekend and summer because his grandparents lived here, and he said his uncle, who is close to his age, is his best friend, and now after he was diagnosed, he moved here full time. Since his diagnosis, he has lost 100 pounds. Mr. Lopez looked healthy and young and strong. Sometimes that made his struggle even harder. People looked at him like he was a fraud — like he was just pretending to be sick.
His girlfriend was tired of waiting for a kidney for him and wanted to help so she created a page to try to reach more people. The whole thing made him very uncomfortable, he said. He was raised to be the one doing the giving. “It’s hard to let other people do for me,” he said. “I give help, but I don’t know how to receive it. I don’t know how to act.” He almost got a kidney but someone else who needed a kidney and pancreas was chosen instead. “It’s okay, he said. “They must have needed it more. I’m strong. I can wait.”
Mr. Lopez was interviewed for this story on Tuesday, May 14, and two days later, he received the call he has been waiting for, a kidney was waiting for him. He had surgery that same day.
According to Organdonor.gov, “Signing up on your state registry means that someday you could save lives as a donor — by leaving behind the gift of life. When you register, most states let you choose what organs and tissues you want to donate, and you can update your status at any time.” Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died, but some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is alive. Close to 6,000 living donations take place each year. Most living donations happen among family members or between close friends, but some people become altruistic living donors by choosing to donate to someone they don’t know. Information on becoming an organ donor can be obtained at organdonor.gov.