The kidney-sized scar on Abel Valdes’ side isn’t his only reminder that he owes his wife dearly for giving him a second crack at life.
Dirty dishes piled up inside the kitchen of his Kendall home do the trick, too, says Gabriela Valdes, 36.
“Remember the kidney that’s there,” Gabriela says, patting him on the the gut as she smiles. “The dishes need to get done.”
About two weeks since the mother of three went under the knife for her high-school sweetheart, both have recovered well and Abel no longer has to undergo grueling dialysis treatment to filter the toxins and excess water from his body.
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The couple, married since 2004, detailed their recovery during a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Thursday. They were joined by their three kids — 12-year-old Victoria, 9-year-old Alejandro and 5-year-old Adrian — along with their doctor and surgeon.
“There’s nothing I can do to hold up to that,” Abel said. “I’m very grateful to her.”
Abel, 38, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure about five years ago, during Gabriela’s third pregnancy. In 2016, he began dialysis and was placed on the national transplant list. But the dialysis, combined with his hypertension and diabetes, proved to be too much for his body, and he needed open-heart surgery in October.
He was then assigned to physicians working for the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI), an affiliation between Jackson Health System and UHealth – University of Miami Health System at Jackson Memorial Medical Center.
Meanwhile, Gabriela was unaware she was a “perfect match,” said Dr. Giselle Guerra, medical director of the Living Donor Kidney Program and a physician at the Miami Transplant Institute.
“You do not have to be a blood relative to be a donor,” Guerra said. “All you need to be is blood-type compatible.”
Ideally, she added, doctors prefer a donor and recipient to have as many genes in common as possible to increase the odds that the recipient’s body doesn’t reject the donated organ.
“I didn’t think it was an option for me to be a donor,” Gabriela said. “I didn’t think I could do it — especially when I was not related to him.”
And for those who aren’t matches, Guerra said, the Miami Transplant Institute’s paired exchange program allows donors to give away an organ to a stranger who has a compatible blood type in exchange for their loved one to receive someone else’s organ.
Guerra said Jackson oversees between 80 and 100 living kidney transplants per year, but each one has its own challenges.
Following surgery on March 20 — operations that lasted about three and a half hours for Gabriela and four hours for Abel — Gabriela recalls waking up and being wheeled to her husband’s side. The two held hands just as they did hours before they were anesthetized, and at Gabriela’s high-school prom.
And just like back then, the two felt hopeful about the future.
“It was just a relief knowing that it was done, that we did it,” Gabriela said. “Now we’re on the road to recovery and the rest of our lives.”
Correction: This article previously stated Gabriela and Abel Valdes have been married since 2006. They got married in 2004.