A seemingly idyllic childhood stopped in its tracks for Tania Pérez-Díaz at the age of eight. Doctors diagnosed a heart condition which prompted her other organs to begin failing, and by the time she was 11 she weighed only 54 pounds. A heart transplant restored her health, allowed her to return to school, play piano and take singing and dancing lessons. Tania is very aware of the special gift she received, and gives thanks every day to God, her parents, and the special family who gave her a second chance.
For Emily Perez, the hardest part of cystic fibrosis wasn’t the ever-present IVs or oxygen therapy. “I could not be a mother to my little girl,” remembers Emily. A double lung transplant changed that, turning her dream of being an “all-the-time mommy” into a reality. “There are no words to describe what it means to finally live and be a mom for the first time,” Emily says. In addition to swimming almost daily, she also coaches her daughter’s soccer team. “We’re living everyday, miracle by miracle.”
The devastating loss of Ranelle Ray created a huge void for her mother, sisters, nephews, and especially her son, Jusvani. “It was his decision for her to become an organ donor,” says Ranelle’s mother, Marina. “And he made an immediate decision.” A nursing student, Ranelle always wanted to help others, and the entire family finds comfort knowing they were able to help her do that after her death. “My aunt would have a big smile on her face, knowing how many lives she helped,” says her nephew, Marco. In memory of Ranelle, the family often gets together to release balloons into the sky. “When we release balloons,” explains Marina, “we stay connected with Ranelle. I am proud of my daughter, as I have always been. She gave someone a second chance at life.”
54 year-old Ismael Santiago Romero – or “Chino,” as he prefers to be called – remembers March 17, 1993, as the day he was brought back to life. “Since that day I have been immensely grateful to my kidney donor,” he says. Each day, he prays for his donor family to receive “all kinds of blessings for the gift they honored me with.” Although he easily recalls his four years on dialysis, he prefers to focus on the present, devoting time to fixing cars and volunteering with LifeLink of Puerto Rico. “I encourage others to show appreciation, and say “yes” to organ and tissue donation.”
Since they were small, Gilbert Vazquez’ children were taught to give back to their community. Gilbert modeled this behavior by visiting hospitals, spreading cheer to sick kids. But he never could have imagined the gift his son, Gilbert Vázquez Díaz, would provide to more than 30 others. When young Gilbert died just three months before graduating from college, he became a tissue donor. Gilbert’s sorrow was eased by learning how many people his son helped. “I was sure this was not the end of a life, but a continuation.” Gilbert continues to give back through his volunteer work with LifeLink of Puerto Rico.
“Since the transplant, life has been so wonderful,” says Ashley Hernandez, whose young son Arturo started dialysis when he was only two weeks old chronic kidney disease. It was only after he received a transplant that Arturo began walking and talking. Now 2 ½ years old, “He tries new and different things,” according to his mom. Memories of their little boy in the hospital, relying on machines for his health, become fainter with time. Thanks to an organ donor, “He has a life to look forward to … a life without tubes.”
A liver transplant saved José Nogueras’ life, and also provided a spiritual renewal that inspires him to say a daily prayer for the thousands waiting on the transplant list. His life now, he says, “cannot be compared with anything before.” Both physically and emotionally stronger, Jose has a heightened appreciation for seeing others enjoy their own happiness. And his transplant also impacted his career as an award-winning writer and singer. “My music comes more naturally than ever.” He says his life is now in total harmony, and he lives it to the fullest with his wife, Marisell, and their three daughters, Coralis, Cristina and Beatriz.
Christine Caesar doesn’t want to look back and regret not pursuing her dreams, so, now that she has a second chance at life, she lives it to the fullest. Diagnosed in the early 1990’s with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease which can impact different organ systems, Christine’s health declined until she was dependent on both oxygen and dialysis, and her liver was failing. She needed a liver and kidney transplant to survive, and, thanks to an organ donor, Christine received the Gift of Life in 2006. Making up for lost time, Christine works full time in her family technology business, and part time in medical transcription. She loves to travel with her husband, Carl, and since her transplant has taken up wood working. Christine finds comfort in the lumber aisle of her local hardware store and is proud to contribute more than fashion sense to remodeling around her home. “I am so grateful to my donor,” Christine says, “they gave me my independence back.”
Luis Correa De Jesús was twenty-three when he was diagnosed with kidney disease, but it wasn’t until seventeen years later that his kidneys failed completely, and he went on dialysis. Three years later, while in the process of getting on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, doctors discovered Luis was in heart failure as well. He would need both a kidney and heart transplant to survive. In July, 2007 Luis became the first person ever to receive a dual heart/kidney transplant at the Cardiovascular Center in Puerto Rico. He says, “I feel doubly blessed, I have received two chances, while there are so many waiting for one. I thank God and my donor, every moment, for this second chance at life. I’m certain that God has a purpose for all this”.
Luis Enrique Rivera’s life changed more quickly than he could have imagined. He was diagnosed with liver cancer, and quickly placed on the waiting list to receive a liver transplant. On October 1st, 2007, he received a second chance at life thanks to an organ donor. Now 58, Luis feels his transplant experience changed his outlook on life as well as saved it. He feels more compassion for others than ever before and is closer to his wife and four children. Luis loves to travel at every opportunity, but mostly, he appreciates the privilege of spending quality time with his grandchildren. To give back, Luis visits other patients waiting for a transplant, hoping to fill them with hope and encouragement and volunteers to promote organ donation. Luis says, “Having a second chance at life has made me a better human being and has given me the chance to help others that face my same situation”.