Everybody has "wants" — pizzas the size of our face or a three-month vacation to Italy for instance — but Cruz A. Gonzalez Jr.'s desires are a little different. The 48-year-old would love to have some lasagna, citrus fruits, actually urinate again (he hasn't peed since 2007) and maybe feel well-rested for once. He also wants to live.
Unless he's able to fly his kidney donor to the U.S. and pay for all of his care post-op, however, none of those things may be possible — a heartbreaking truth both for him or for over 120,000 Americans on organ donor waiting lists.
Gonzalez's life wasn't always up in the air, though. In fact, the Puerto Rican man was an athlete who played sports all of his life, remaining conscientious of his health minus the occasional cheesesteak here and there (he is from Philadelphia, after all). But one day in January 2004, that all changed.
He was at a routine doctor's appointment at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia when the doctor took his blood pressure. The numbers were so high that the doctor thought it was mistake and did it again. After the fourth time, there was no mistaking it. Gonzalez recalls being told, "You need to get to the emergency room."
That's when he found out his blood pressure was a whopping 250/150 (for comparison, a normal rate is 120/80). Both of his kidneys had shut down and he was about to have a stroke.
Gonzalez didn't have a stroke, but he was without functioning kidneys. You need at least one to live, because the organ is so vital to bodily functions such as the filtering waste and toxins out of the blood. Without a kidney to dispense of them, they'll build up in the body and could kill the victim.
Luckily for him, his father was a 92 percent organ match, pretty much like a twin, and came up from Clearwater, Fla., for a kidney transplant operation in September 2006, when Gonzalez was healthy enough to undergo surgery.
But after just 11 months, August 2007, the new kidney which should have lasted up to 30 years, failed.
"We went on vacation for Labor Day weekend and I didn't feel right. [The kidney] micro-clotted, caused by anti-rejection medicine," he told A Plus in an interview. "I call myself Mr. Side Effect."
Doctors removed it that October 2008.
To add insult to injury, Gonzalez's other kidney hemorrhaged this past February and so with another failed kidney, the bleeding one forced out, and no healthy kidneys, period, he needed a new donor, but his close relatives were not suitable matches.
So his wife, Sara, took measures into her own hands and flew out to her home country, the Dominican Republic, and had seven of her family members tested. Two, one of which was her cousin, were a match.
Gonzalez and his wife after their engagement.
That was the good news. The bad? They need money to not only get the cousin here, but to support themselves financially during and after surgery.
He set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to get his donor overseas, and to support his wife while he undergoes treatment at New York Presbyterian in New York City. Aside from living and airfare costs, Gonzalez is the breadwinner of the family as a computer contractor and it's hard to book jobs while undergoing dialysis let alone have enough financial stability while being out of work to get a new kidney.
"I'm gonna be out of work for at least two months. I don't work, I don't get paid," he explained.
In one month, he and his wife have only raised a little over $2,000 of their $5,000 goal, but the clock is ticking. With not enough money, he'll have to delay the surgery, which means no new kidney and ultimately, no more time. They're hoping to have the surgery by fall 2015.
"I can feel myself, on a daily basis, spiraling," he told me over the phone from his bed post-dialysis.
Gonzalez' story isn't unique to U.S. minorities. Currently, more than 23,000 Latinos are waiting for an organ transplant. They make up more than half of the people on donor transplant lists, but face greater obstacles than non-Hispanic Whites due to, in part, the overwhelming financial costs at stake for transplant recipients.
A study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health cited that conversations had by both minority donors and recipients tend to revolve more around the financial burden. "Financial barriers cited included fear of becoming unable to work, losing one's job, or being unable to pay household bills while recovering," the abstract states.
It's an unfortunate burden to bear as 21 people die every day waiting for a transplant.
Gonzalez is determined to not be one of them.
"I found the love of my life and I want to grow old with her. I want to enjoy life," he said. "I don't want to die."
To donate to Cruz Gonzalez's GoFundMe, visit his page here.