Maria Elena (right) embraces her daughter Maria Angelica.
May 13 2015

Donating the gift of life

Maria Elena (right) embraces her daughter Maria Angelica.

Maria Elena (right) embraces her daughter Maria Angelica.

Maria Angelica has grown up around nurses and hospitals.

Born almost three months early, she spent much of her first four years in the hospital before being diagnosed with kidney failure and a tumor in her liver. Though the doctors were able to remove the tumor, Maria Angelica’s health continued to worsen. She needed a new kidney, but the waiting list was long and knowledge about organ donation was almost nonexistent in Bolivia in the late 90s.

“It is too difficult to find a donor,” said Maria Elena, Maria Angelica’s mother. “When they went to sign up my daughter, she was number 600 on that list. It is very difficult; there is no awareness to donate organs here.”

Maria Elena was a constant support for her young daughter. With the help of the hospital, the family searched for a kidney donor without success. After two years they still hadn’t found a donor, and Maria Angelica’s kidneys were failing. She would die without a new kidney. Her mother was a match, but the doctors were concerned about putting an adult kidney in a child so small.

“I was not the ideal donor because my kidney was too big for her,” Maria Elena said. “From the start I told the doctors that I wanted to donate my kidney, but they did not accept the idea. I was their last and only choice; my baby could not wait any longer.

“She got my kidney at the age of 6, and the surgery was successful. Her health improved, her body accepted the new kidney, her appearance was better, and her skin color looked good.”

Sadly, the joy of Maria Angelica’s improved health didn’t last. At age 9 she was diagnosed with leukemia. Though the doctors started to talk about making Maria Angelica comfortable in her remaining time, Maria Elena never gave up hope that her daughter would recover.

“She is 21 now, and this is a battle that she is still fighting,” Maria Elena said. “Maria Angelica is strong and brave. I remember when she went through three very hard years of chemotherapy treatments.”

Maria Angelica and Maria Elena spend time together outside their home.

Maria Angelica and Maria Elena spend time together outside their home.

With the continued medical costs and her husband abandoning the family, Maria Elena found it difficult to support her five children. She’d already sold all the personal items she could.

It was shortly after the leukemia diagnosis that Maria Angelica was sponsored through Unbound. The monthly benefits helped cover treatment costs and basic necessities, like food, but joining the program meant more than that. Maria Elena received much needed encouragement from the Unbound staff.

That encouragement gave her and her daughter strength. Though doctors didn’t expect Maria Angelica to make it to her teens, she is now a young adult expecting her first child in June. She continues to receive medical treatment for the leukemia and will likely undergo another round of chemotherapy after she gives birth.

And despite the delays in her schooling because of her health, Maria Angelica wants to complete high school.

Though she doesn’t have a sponsor now, Maria Angelica will continue to receive benefits from the Unbound program to help her achieve her academic goals and to help with the cost of her medical expenses. But most importantly, she has her mom by her side through everything.

“You should never give up your hopes,” Maria Elena said. “You must move forward with faith, hope and with God’s hand. You cannot do anything without faith.

“Our duty as parents is to support our children. We have to walk with our children; our moral support is important for them. You must fight until the last moment of life.”

Editor’s note: Since this story was published, Maria Angelica was sponsored. Click here to view others still waiting for a sponsor.

Related links:

World Bank report on health sector reform in Bolivia

Andean Culture Frustrates Organ Transplants in Bolivia

Donate Life America

Jordan Kimbrell

Jordan Kimbrell, writer/editor
Jordan joined the Unbound family in 2011, just a few weeks after completing her masters in English: Creative Writing from Kansas State University. Jordan is constantly inspired by the hope and creativity displayed by the sponsored members and their families and loves being able to share their stories with the rest of the world.

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