Six years ago, 36-year-old Chula Vista resident and Mueller Charter School teacher Ricky Medina discovered he had the rare opportunity to donate one of his kidneys to his older brother Ernie.
Once a healthy father, husband and coach, Ernie was diagnosed with last stage renal failure in late 2002 after a routine checkup. A virus caused his kidney to deteriorate and could have killed him within one year, according to doctors. But after a successful transplant Ernie is off dialysis, coaching water polo and swimming at Otay Ranch High School.
Ricky’s wife Tina will soon give the same gift to her 60-year-old father Armando Nunez.
Nunez has had type 2 diabetes for 28 years and has received dialysis four hours a day, three times a week since 2008 when he suffered his stroke and was put on a kidney transplant list.
“When you rely on dialysis it takes away who you are,” Medina said. “When you receive a kidney it puts your life into perspective.”
Testing to find a match for a kidney transplant donor is a long process and it took nearly four months and several meetings with different doctors to be sure Medina was a good enough match for her father.
“Tina was willing to do whatever it took and I was amazed that she would go through this,” Nunez said.
As a 34-year-old mother of two, Medina said this is a unique experience that she not only gets to share with her husband and father, but also her kids.
“For me it’s about being an example and being able to give someone a second chance.”
She said that living with her dad’s illness helped her become a healthier person.
“A lot of people are afraid because they don’t have the knowledge they need so awareness is important,” Medina said.
Tina’s mother said that going through the transplant with her son-in-law was a very educational experience.
“When Ernie got sick, the family became educated on kidney disease and prevention,” Dianne Nunez said.
Armando Nunez stressed the importance of knowledge in prevention. He said that people need to be more careful when they’re young to avoid getting sick when they are older.
The effects of diabetes have added an extra weight on his marriage and he is grateful for his family’s commitment, Armando said.
Diane married Armando 37 years ago and is currently a medical assistant at Kaiser Permanente in Bonita.
She said she is not only Armando’s wife, but also his home nurse because of his dialysis treatments.
“It’s very unpleasant for him,” she said. “But we are soul mates and have been dealing with the disease together.”
“There is life for recipients, a long and flourishing life,” Ernie Medina said.
“Ricky and Tina are heroes. People like them are heroes and that’s what community and family are about,” he said.