Monica Ramirez, 33, is a low-risk pregnancy coordinator for Tufts Health Plan in Watertown. Her mother is a long-time member of the Brandeis community as a staff member for Brandeis Facilities Services. Unfortunately, Ramirez suffers from kidney problems and is in search of a donor.
For those unfamiliar with kidneys, they are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are incredibly important for the human body because they keep the composition of blood stable so that the body can function normally. Kidneys prevent the buildup of waste and extra fluid, in addition to stabilizing levels of electrolytes such as sodium, making hormones that help regulate blood pressure and making red blood cells, according to the National Institute of Health.
Ramirez first started to develop kidney problems around the age of 16. Twelve years ago, she successfully received her first kidney transplant through Boston Children’s Hospital. However, in 2015, Ramirez contracted pneumonia and was in the hospital for a month. During that time, her kidney failed, and she is now in need of a second transplant.
In addition to problems involving her kidney, Ramirez also has a heart condition that will require her to undergo a stress test so that a cardiologist can give her the permission to go into surgery for a transplant once a donor has been located. When the doctor confirms that her heart is strong enough for surgery, they will put Ramirez on the waiting list for the transplant. She said that they will put her name on the list along with the amount of time she has been waiting: about a year and a half. Unfortunately, the wait time for a donor is from five to seven years.
Since her kidney failure in 2015, Ramirez has started dialysis, a medical process that purifies and removes the waste products in the blood as a substitute for normal kidney functions. Currently, she works from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then undergoes dialysis three days a week starting at 6 p.m. Ramirez talked about how it is difficult for her to balance her daily life along with her constant surveillance of her kidney.
“I have a husband and want to spend time with him, but I don’t always have the time,” she said. In addition to balancing her time between work, family and treatment, Ramirez says that her condition is also a struggle financially.
Among daily costs, Ramirez pays for health insurance and other types of specific medical insurances, in addition to the multitudinous hospital bills. “I qualify for Medicare, but I still have to pay the premium,” she mentioned, a premium being the monthly payment that goes toward the Medicare coverage.
A kidney transplant would be a life-saving procedure for Ramirez. She clarified a few misconceptions about being a living kidney donor. She knows people in her community and church who have donated, and they are still OK and living well. “A person can live with one kidney,” Ramirez said in relation to the misconception that donating a kidney could possibly lead to kidney problems in the person who donated to someone in need.
Becoming a kidney donor is a careful process. “They would be checked first to make sure that [the donor] is healthy enough. They would do a lot of tests,” Ramirez said. Also, for those who may be worried that they may need a kidney later in life after donating one of theirs, living donors are given priority on the waiting list for a transplant, according to Kidney.org.
Ramirez’s ideal donor would be between 20 and 45 years old and have type-B or type-O blood. It is also important that the donor has the ability to travel to Brigham and Women’s Hospital for testing. “It’s hard to ask people to donate something so delicate,” Ramirez said about being in search of a donor. “It would be very appreciated, but it is very hard to accept from a family member. I am really in need.”
If you are interested in becoming a kidney donor, but are not a direct match with Ramirez, you may still be able to help through what is called a paired kidney exchange. This is a program in which one incompatible donor-recipient pair is matched with another similar pair so that two lives may be saved.
Any prospective donors should email the transplant team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at BWHkidneydonorinfo@partners.org and ask to be tested as a potential match for Monica Ramirez. Please consider helping a member of the Brandeis community, or help to spread the word about Ramirez’s search for a kidney donor.