When Zelanda Larragoity was nominated for The Miami Herald’s Wish Book, the request seemed simple enough: gas cards and food so she could care for her 76-year-old father who has been diagnosed with dementia. Her mother died three years ago from lung cancer.
Larragoity, 46, hasn’t been able to work since 2010 when doctors discovered that her kidneys were not working. Three days a week she is hooked to a machine that cleans her blood of toxins — an exhausting experience. Her disability check and father’s Social Security income must cover the mortgage, medicines, food and utilities.
When she told Miami Herald reporter Carli Teproff that what she really wanted was to resume working in a bank so she could care for her father without aid, the bigger story emerged: What Larragoity really needed was a healthy, new kidney.
But who offers to donate a kidney to a stranger after reading a story in a newspaper?
Apparently, at least three people did.
Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Larragoity has been on a waiting list since July 2011, is screening the candidates to determine if there is a suitable match before surgery can be considered.
“The intention and the goodwill is beyond whether there is a match or not,” Larragoity said Friday. “If it doesn’t fit me maybe it could fit someone else. I won just knowing that people care like that.”
That story, and others, are potent reminders of the good that is out there. Last year, readers of Wish Book, which has run in The Herald for 31 years, surprised organizers by offering three jobs to needy people. That was a first, said Wish Book coordinator Roberta DiPietro.
So were the offers for kidney donations.
“We have to see if they are a match, but the fact people called in to donate kidneys is remarkable,” DiPietro said. “The generosity has been overwhelming, [amid] the elections and the Connecticut tragedies. That our readers are still touched by our local stories is heartwarming. And we still have time.”
Donations to Wish Book can be made through February.
Another story that has captured readers’ hearts involves Layla Paul, a toddler born with a heart defect. When Wish Book featured her story in December she and her family were awaiting a life-saving heart transplant at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
On Dec. 21, after exactly six months on a waiting list, Layla received what her mother calls her “miracle heart.”
“Heading into the holidays, it was a Godsend,” said Kevin Paul, Layla’s father, a Marine stationed in Tampa who visits his family in the hospital every weekend. “Perfect timing.”
Since Layla received her transplant, Paul said there has been an outpouring of support on a Facebook page created by Layla’s mother, Amena Khan.
“When the news of her heart got out, her Facebook page exploded,” he said. “When it first started she had 1,200 followers. Now she’s over 4,000. People are pouring in support and prayers.”
Layla has had some complications and is still in the hospital. But her family is keeping its hopes up.
“Home is calling us!” Khan wrote Wednesday.
And so are readers. Wish Book is currently working with about 650 families. Since Thanksgiving, about $252,000 in cash has been donated, along with in-kind donations such as cars, furniture, orthodontics for two individuals, home modifications and specialized equipment.