Samuel Guedea is coming up on the first anniversary of the kidney transplant that saved his life. It’s certainly a reason to celebrate, but it brings up bitter-sweet feelings for Guedea. In 2012, after waiting for a kidney transplant for almost four years, Guedea received a kidney from his second cousin, 21-year-old Alexander Nicholas Guedea, who committed suicide on June 19.
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“His father, my first cousin, Rick, told me that he couldn’t do anything for his son, but he could do something for me,” said Guedea.”He called me while I was in dialysis. I couldn’t believe that he could think of me at such a time.”
Guedea, 49, has lived in El Dorado County since 1975, behind the Happy Hollow Skating Rink. “My father bought it in 1976 and he and I ran it together for 22 years,” said Guedea. “It was a lot of fun and I still talk to people who remember me from the rink. The bowling alley, the skating rink and the theater were the only things for kids to do around here.” The family closed the skating rink in 1998. “It was falling apart and too expensive to repair,” said Guedea.
He and his wife, Gina, raised seven children and Guedea worked as a custodian for Oak Ridge High School. In 2008, as a result of diabetes, he lost the vision in his right eye and by 2009, he and his wife were getting up at 3:30 in the morning, three days a week to drive to the DaVita Dialysis Clinic in Cameron Park where Guedea underwent dialysis for kidney failure.
“It was hard to make all the appointments since I had lost my driver’s license because of the vision problem,” said Guedea. “Then, in 2010, my wife died.”
Guedea spiraled into depression and the kidney disease grew worse. “My kids took turns taking me to the medical appointments and dialysis, but the average wait for a kidney patient to receive a transplant is seven years.
“Deep inside I was heavy with sadness. I knew that I would not be around very long to enjoy my family and watch my children and grandchildren grow.”
Then came the call from Rick Guedea, his cousin from Corona. “He offered Alex’s kidney and told me he needed all my medical information. The DaVita clinic and the hospital in Southern California worked together to get all the bloodwork and paperwork done. By 3 p.m. the next day, I was at UCSF hospital getting a kidney transplant.”
Guedea said it often takes a while for a newly transplanted kidney to begin functioning. “But the doctors came out and told my kids that I must have a guardian angel watching over me because my kidney was awake and functioning by the time they closed me up.”
Despite a few early medical hitches caused by his diabetes, Guedea is healthy and becoming more active all the time. “He’s lost over 100 pounds, a process he began after Gina’s death and continued with healthy eating. He no longer has to go to dialysis or the monthly medical appointments to check the status of his transplants.
Guedea was able to visit his cousins in Corona in December. “It was a weird connection — more than just cousins. I’m carrying part of their son.” He was able to share some of the insights he gained from the grief sharing group he attended at Green Valley Community Church after his wife died. “This was the first death in their family and they don’t understand why it happened,” said Guedea.”I told them they may never understand and that’s alright.”
Alexander Nicholas Guedea, Jan.12, 1991-June 19, 2012, left behind a son only a few months old at the time of his death, his parents, Rick and Sherry, a brother, Scott, and a sister, Ashley, who gave birth to her first child the day after her brother’s death. The donation of Alex’s kidneys, liver and heart saved four lives and the donation of his blood, skin and bone marrow has helped another 49 people.
Guedea’s son Samuel Jr., 22, is the same age as his cousin Alex would have been. Samuel took over most care-taking duties for his father when his mother died, postponing college.
“I only knew basic stuff, like giving a diabetic orange juice,” said Samuel, “but I had to learn about kidney disease, dialysis, diabetes, how to initiate insulin shots, the effect of about 20 different medications and how to adjust them, things to watch for, and how to properly clean a wound.” Now that his father is healthy, Samuel is planning to go to college and study nursing.
“This has changed my life; it’s changed the way I think,” said Guedea of the transplant.” I don’t take life for granted and I’m not sad anymore. It isn’t about material things or money; it’s about being healthy and alive and so glad to be here.”
Guedea wanted to share his story to encourage the many people still on the transplant list. “There are people who are willing to help; you don’t have to go through this alone.” He also wanted to let his cousins know how much he appreciated their difficult decision.
“I talked to my cousin a couple of weeks ago and he sounded so depressed, even though they were planning a first birthday party for his granddaughter. I’m not able to be with them for the anniversary and I wanted to do something to let them know how grateful I am.
“People don’t often hear from transplant recipients,” said Guedea. “I wanted to say thank you to my cousins, Rick and Sherry, reminding them that Alex has given me the most priceless gift of all … a new life,” said Guedea.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.