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Vietnam veteran hopes to find a kidney donor to stay alive

"I'm looking for the donor of my life"
richard rodriquez photo.PNG
Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 19:40:01-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In the ring of life, we all get knocked down and need to pick ourselves back up to fight for another day.

For 75-year-old Richard Rodriguez, his son Riko's murder in 2006 affected him deeply, but he keeps moving.

"I'm doing my best," he said.

Riko was a young, aspiring boxer. His image is on display at Richard's gym. It reminds Richard to keep going.

For almost three decades, Richard has been training amateur boxers to be winners in life.

"They mean a lot to me, because I care about them not going the wrong way," he said.

But now Richard, who was recently inducted into the Texas Golden Gloves Hall of Fame, faces what could be the final round of his life.

He's hoping to survive a fatal blow.

"I knew I was sick, but I didn't know I was that sick," he said, after finding out he had Stage 5 renal failure.

Richard traces his kidney disease to the late 1960's, when he served as an Army specialist in Vietnam.

"I was drafted as a teenager at 21 — it was a horrifying experience," he said.

But he served proudly, only to come home sentenced to this deadly disease.

In the last seven months, his condition has worsened.

He needs a new kidney.

"I'm trying to find the strength, but I don't have it anymore," he said.

Just to stay alive, Richard undergoes dialysis treatment three times per week at Fresenius Medical Care.

"We clean his blood from toxins, and we remove excess fluid that stays in his body," said Fresenius clinical manager James Ford.

The procedure buys Richard some time, but it's not a cure.

"Without a kidney transplant, (dialysis) would be for the rest of his life," Ford said.

In order to coach his kids, keep his son's memory alive, and make a comeback of a lifetime, Richard would need to find a living kidney donor.

Every day he prays for someone to come forward to fight for him the way that he fought for us in Vietnam.

"I'm thinking of them as being a great kindhearted person that cares about life," he said.

If you want to be a candidate for organ donation for Richard or another veteran, click here for the VA National Transplant Program. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays the organ donors' medical costs before and after the transplant.

They also medically monitor the donor for two years, and the VA pays travel benefits for the veteran and the living donor.
Here's where you can find information about living organ donations and transplants.

If you are a veteran in need of an organ, the best way to start is to get in touch with local VA transplant coordinator Donna Johnson at (956) 923-1012. She will get the organ donation process going. An important note from the VA — the organ recipient must find their own organ donor.

Other frequently asked questions about organ donations:

Who can be a potential living donor?

1. Any one over the age of 21 can be evaluated as a potential living kidney donor. The potential donor does not have to be a closely-related family member. The donor can be a relative, spouse, friend, co-worker, etc. Kidney donations from a non-biologically related donor have been found to be as successful as those from a close relative.

2. Anyone of good physical health and mental health. Certain medical conditions may prevent a donor from being a suitable candidate, including high-blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. These are the three main reasons that most donor candidates are declined for donation. There may be other reasons, depending on the donor and their medical history. Donors will undergo a thorough medical and psycho-social evaluation to ensure that donation is safe for them.

3. Anyone who wishes to donate of their own free will and not under any form of coercion or pressure of guilt.

Who pays for the living donor?

1. The VA will cover the costs of the donor travel (hotel, flight, and taxi) during their two-day evaluation, the pre-operative visit, surgery, and all post-donation visits at the Michael E Debakey Medical Center VA Transplant Center in Houston. The VA also covers the travel expense for a caregiver to accompany the donor on all visits as part of their donor journey. Their food and lost wages are not covered by the VA.

2. National Living Donor Assistance Center is a resource that may help your potential donor cover out-of-pocket expenses during their evaluation, surgery, and recovery phases. This financial application is for donor compensation only, but it will require your financial information to apply for consideration of compensation.

According to United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) and HIPAA guidelines, all donor communication and evaluation must be kept confidential between the donor and the living-donor team. Just as the organ recipient has their own transplant team, the donor will have their own living-donor team. Therefore, the donor must be the one to call to initiate the donor process and ensure complete confidentiality. They will not be able to disclose any donor information to the organ recipient. The potential donor has the right to delay or stop the donor process at any time.