Sharing the gift of life: Young kidney recipient promotes organ donation among Latinos

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ignacio Perez was 17 when his kidneys first showed signs of inflammation and 23 when he started steroid therapy to manage his disease.

But that didn’t last long for Perez, a parishioner at Mission San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, who is now 27. He started dialysis three times a week in June 2009, and kept up that grueling schedule until he received a kidney transplant last Feb. 24.

Perez, an active member of the “Jovenes,” or young-adult group run by the Office for Hispanic Catholics, now advocates for organ donation in churches and on a Spanish radio show he helps produce, working with the Gift of Hope organ and tissue donation network.

He wants to spread the message that organ donation saves lives, and that it is in accord with church teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity.

“It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (2296).

In Perez’s case, the donation came indirectly from fellow parishioner at Mission San Juan Diego, Alonso Perez. But Alonso Perez was not an ideal match for Ignacio, so the transplant clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital put together a chain of three donors and recipients. Alonso Perez’s kidney went to someone else; Ignacio Perez received a kidney from a woman in Springfield, Ill.

Doctors at Northwestern did all six surgeries the same day, and all of the donors and recipients were able to meet one another about a week later, Ignacio Perez said.

His life has changed for the better since the transplant, he said. When he was on dialysis, he would come home and sleep most of the day, and he had to quit his job selling cars. He couldn’t eat some of his favorite foods or drink much water.

Now, he takes four or five medications each day to stay healthy, but he has enough energy to get through the day, and he can eat and drink more normally. He still doesn’t have a job, but he and some friends from the Jovenes group have been hired to develop a few websites and film short documentaries — an outgrowth of their work with the group.

He is hoping, he said, to go back to school to study communications.