May 18, 2024

National Donate Life Month holds extra meaning to treasurer’s office

Members of the Clarke County Treasurer's office celebrate National Organ Donation month, which takes place annually in April. Left to right are: Brooke Caldwell, first deputy; Jessica Smith, treasurer; Shelby Hawxby, motor vehicle deputy; Esmeralda Elizondo, driver license examiner. Elizondo was the recipient of a kidney in 2022.

In April, the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office joins with the Iowa Donor Network in observing National Donate Life Month. Each April has a different theme, and this year’s is “Donors are SuperStars,” which celebrates organ and tissue donors as the superstars who allow the gift of donation for those who need it.

The theme this year hits a little closer to home for one employee in the treasurers’ office - driver’s license examiner Esmeralda Elizondo, who received a donated kidney in 2022.

Diagnosis

In August 2017, 18-year-old Elizondo was visiting her grandmother in Texas. When playing around with her cousins, one of them hit Elizondo in the face and broke her glasses, prompting a trip to the eye doctor to check for damage. While waiting to see the doctor, the nurse commented that he noticed something odd in Elizondo’s eyes, and told her to come back later when the doctor was available. She did, and the eye doctor took pictures of her eyes and upon further examination found that Elizondo had retinal bleeding behind her eyes.

“He asked if I felt OK, I said ‘yeah, I feel fine, I feel great,’” said Elizondo.

The eye doctor checked her blood pressure and found it to be dangerously high - 260/184. Elizondo was sent to the emergency room, and after talking with a doctor there and having blood work done found that she was renal failure.

Elizondo started on dialysis the next day, and remained in the hospital for two and a half weeks, before being sent home to New Mexico where she began a two to two-and-a-half year treatment of hemodialysis.

Move to Iowa

After some time, Elizondo moved to Iowa to be closer to her mother and sister, who could help her with her hemodialysis journey. By this time, the catheter in her chest was giving out, and attempts at surgery to make a fistula graft in her arms weren’t working. At Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, Elizondo was asked about trying peritoneal dialysis, which is where a catheter is inserted into one’s abdomen to be given dialysis, which can often be done outside of a hospital. Though initially wary of the idea, after further talks and education, Elizondo decided to give it a try.

“I got on peritoneal dialysis in February of 2020, and it changed my life completely…[it was] way better for me and my body,” said Elizondo, who was able to connect to a dialysis machine at home and let it do its work for nine hours overnight, giving her more freedom during the day.

Wait for a donor

In the beginning of her dialysis journey, Elizondo said that her mom wanted to donate a kidney. While her mom was found to be a match, her kidneys had cysts, so they couldn’t be donated. Then her sister wanted to donate, but became pregnant.

“I kind of just let it go and lived life and tried not to think about it so much,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo continued to wait.

In July of 2022, she received a call that a potential donor had been found, and made the trip to Iowa City, where she underwent more testing and got ready for the transplant. After waiting to be taken back for the procedure, Elizondo was told that the potential donor and she had tissue typing that was not compatible.

“I kind of just gave up my hopes again and I’m like, okay, it’s fine, it will happen one day or another,” said Elizondo.

And finally, it did.

Perfect match

A couple months later in September 2022, Elizondo was called again about another potential donor, and this time it was a perfect match. She got the call on Sept. 2, and had the procedure done on Sept. 4. Her donor was a 25-year-old man named Dakota from Missouri who had died of a brain aneurysm.

“I’m very grateful for Dakota, and I always thank him every day in my prayers,” said Elizondo, who has had the chance to meet and talk with Dakota’s mother.

Elizondo said it took her a good three months to be back to going after the surgery, and she’s been doing well ever since. She will take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, and has regular blood work to make sure everything is still working as it should. Having always been an organ donor herself, Elizondo may even be able to donate her donated kidney if it’s still usable when the time comes.

While it was a long five years from diagnosis to cure, Elizondo is glad that she didn’t give up hope that one day she’d receive an kidney.

“I would do it all over again. I was worth it, it was worth the wait for sure. I’m very grateful that there’s donors out there, cause you never know,” said Elizondo.

Organ donations by the numbers

Elizondo is one of the lucky Iowans who received a much-needed organ. Data on the Iowa Donor Network’s website states that as of October 2023, there are 637 Iowans on a wait list for an organ or tissue, with the national wait list at 103,388.

In Iowa, the following are the types of organs needed:

Heart - 16

Lungs - 10

Liver - 20

Kidney - 559

Kidney/pancreas - 26

Pancreas - 6

In 2023 in Iowa, there were 350 organs transplanted, with 123 organ donors and 1,027 tissue donors, with 2,469 donor families served. In Iowa, every driver’s education class must have an educational session on organ, tissue and eye donations for learners.

Nationwide, statistics state that a new person is added to the national organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. An average of 17 people die each day while waiting on an organ transplant, with an average of 115 transplants taking place each day. More than 42,000 people were saved by organ donations in the United States in 2022. An organ donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation, and help anywhere from 50 to 300 lives with tissue donation.

On Sept. 9 2022, days after Elizondo received her new kidney, the United States reached its one-millionth organ transplant, which is more than any other county, and a milestone in the transplant world.

“I’m really, really thankful that there’s donors out there, because you never know what can happen, who may need them,” said Elizondo.

For more information on organ donation or to find out to donate, visit https://www.iowadonornetwork.org/.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.