When she married her husband Ricardo Bermudez six years ago, Andrea gave him her heart.
Two months ago, she gave him an equally precious gift: a life-saving kidney.
Ricardo Bermudez, 30, has a kidney disease called IgA nephropathy, a disorder in which proteins build up in the kidney, causing the kidney to become inflamed and to malfunction. He needed a kidney transplant and was on a three-year waiting list for a donation.
But his wife had the blood type and antigens, substances that cause your immune system to produce antibodies against it, that were compatible to her husband’s, a rarity among non-blood relatives.
“I was the first volunteer and the last one,” said Andrea, 26, who lives with her family in North Miami. “I had three genes that were the same as his and we have the same blood type. God works in amazing ways.”
Doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital were thrilled.
“Lucky for him she was like a sister, genetically,’’ said Dr. Adela Mattiazzi, a UM/Jackson transplant nephrologist. “It’s really unusual to get a non-biologically related donor. It’s once in a blue moon.”
IgA nephropathy is the most common kidney disease, Mattiazzi said, but Bermudez’s case was rare because it fell within the 5 percent chance of it being end-state renal disease, which requires immediate dialysis treatment .
Bermudez first complained of sharp pain in his lower back in August 2011. His wife took him to St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, where he underwent a biopsy and was diagnosed with the condition.
In December 2011, Bermudez began hemodialysis three times a week, a treatment that took nearly four hours each cycle. He then switched to peritoneal dialysis in August 2012, which allowed him to do the treatments from home over the next 10 months.
When the couple realized it could take some time to receive a kidney donation, Andrea volunteered to donate one of her two kidneys.
“I knew I could live with one kidney, so why was I going to be selfish?” Andrea said. “I did it for my kids. I didn’t have a father around. I wanted to give the opportunity to them.”
Bermudez received his transplant on June 12.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “She offered herself without me asking for it. No one in the family could help, but she was right here next to me.”
The couple met in Miami through a mutual friend and have been married for six years. They have two children, Jacquelyn, 6, and 2-year-old Ricky Jr.
Bermudez was especially concerned about how this would impact his children, as his mother, their grandmother, passed away from kidney cancer in February 2012.
“My daughter understands passing,” he said. “She remembers grandma, she understands. The kids and family stayed together.”
While he recovers at home, Bermudez is working on developing a new career. He had worked for a landscape company but can no longer work outside as a result of his weakened immune system. He has to wear a mask in public for a year and is prohibited from strenuous work and long sun exposure.
“He’s been doing really well,” she said. “There’s no more dialysis or throwing up and he has a different mentality now. He’s studying for his GED. He can’t go back to tree trimming, so he has to go back to school and become a professional.”
Bermudez plans to go to school to become a counselor for children undergoing dialysis.
“He wants to tell his story and give people hope that everything will be okay,” Andrea said. “It’s a hard time, but people are positive and have faith.”
Andrea will continue her job as an administrative clerk.
“I’m just happy that my husband is still by my side and I’m happy I was able to save his life. I just can’t wait to see what the future brings.”