Abel and Gabriela Valdes have experienced many milestones together: they began dating at 17, married years later, and now live in Kendall with three beautiful children. But wedding vows aren’t just words for this couple: when Abel became critically ill, Gabriela did not hesitate to help her husband.
Abel was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, known as chronic kidney disease (CKD) – a condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time and retention of fluid. At the same time, Gabriela was pregnant with their third son.
In 2016, Abel began dialysis, and was placed on the national transplant waiting list.
But his health continued to deteriorate. Abel was admitted multiple times to the hospital for fluid retention and in October 2017, he had open-heart surgery due to the strain that dialysis had on his body.
Seeking a better quality of life, the family was referred to physicians at Miami Transplant Institute (MTI), a unique affiliation between Jackson Health System and UHealth – University of Miami Health System at Jackson Memorial Medical Center, to learn about the Living Donor Kidney Program, spearheaded by UHealth’s Giselle Guerra, MD.
“It is the heart and soul of the kidney program because it generates the best results,” Dr. Guerra said. “The patients do not have to linger on a waiting list; and it shortens the amount of time a patient needs to be on dialysis because they can be transplanted at any point with a living donor.”
Gabriela, although a nurse at a local hospital, was shocked to learn about this alternative and how if she was potentially a match, she could be the one to save her better half.
“I didn’t think it was an option for me to be a donor,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do it – especially when I was not related to him.”
Gabriela, 36, and Abel, 38, were confident that they had come to the right place. Lab results came in and it was determined that she was in fact a perfect match, and the couple decided to embark on this transplant journey together.
“I really didn’t want her to do it because I was scared for her,” Abel said. “But I am thankful to her that I would have the opportunity to watch my kids grow up and continue our family adventures.”
The surgery happened on March 20 at Jackson Memorial Hospital, and was led by transplant surgeons Gaetano Ciancio, MD, MBA, FACS, MTI’s chief medical officer and director of the kidney and kidney-pancreas transplant programs, and Mahmoud Morsi, MD, CPHQ, abdominal transplant surgeon, along with a multidisciplinary team.
“We felt like it was surreal – we just went with the flow and held hands pre-surgery,” Gabriela said. “Once we were finally able to see each other again, it was such a relief and joyous moment.”
The couple has since gone home to be reunited with their family and look forward to targeting their bucket list of travel destinations: the Grand Canyon and New York City.
Gabriela, Abel, and their children – one girl and two boys –shared their story of unconditional love during a press conference at Jackson to educate the community on the importance of becoming a donor as part of April’s National Donate Life Month.
“There’s nothing I can do to hold up to that,” Abel said. “I’m very grateful to her.”