The first time Milagros Campos went to dialysis without her dad, it felt weird.
By age 19, she received the four-hour blood cleaning treatments three times a week for four straight years. For nearly 3,000 hours, she sat in a chair at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital near South Miami, wrapped herself in a soft, gray blanket and pulled out her latest adult coloring book.
Her dad, Miguel, sat next to her and watched boxing matches on his phone while the machines whirred blood out of his daughter’s body, cleaned it and returned it — doing the work a healthy set of kidneys would.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
But that September morning she was alone, and her only close family member was dying in a hospital bed miles away.
Her mother is in Honduras, where she’s been since she started hearing voices and Miguel sent her away, fearing for his 2-year-old daughter’s safety. Miguel raised “his princess” by himself.
He came to every treatment, every doctor’s appointment, every emergency room visit. He took her to the hospital when she was 13. He was there when doctors first told her the pain she felt in her joints, the rash on her face, the hair loss and the mouth ulcers added up to an incurable illness — lupus.
Lupus is an inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own organs. In Campos’ case, it went for the kidneys.
But by the time she was 18, Campos had her health mostly under control. She was working on lowering her antibodies enough to accept a kidney, perfecting her makeup skills through YouTube tutorials and graduating from Hialeah Gardens High School. She thought her next step would be Miami Dade College and a career as an ultrasound tech or a psychologist.
Then her dad’s body scan showed his lung cancer was not just back, it had spread to his brain. Even though he had half of a lung removed last time. Even though he went through chemotherapy. Even though he quit smoking before Milagros, his only daughter, was born.
“I guess it caught up to him,” she said.
Last year she watched as the cancer ravaged her father. It stole his hair, his weight, his energy, his breath. On an early September morning, it stole his ability to get out of bed. He was so embarrassed to admit his pain to his daughter he called her 46-year-old cousin, who lived down the street.
A phone call from her cousin woke Campos up that morning. She found her 73-year-old father in too much pain to leave his bed, so she called the ambulance.
In the hospital, she soothed her anxious and sick father as his condition worsened. Doctors promised her the tube they put down his throat would be temporary. It wasn’t. He stopped moving his hands, opening his eyes and trying to talk.
“They said the machine was doing the breathing for him,” she said. “They said there was no hope.”
Doctors turned to the 19-year-old girl and told her it was her decision what happened to her father. Her cousin offered no advice. Her Nicklaus nurses, whom she affectionately refers to as her ‘moms,’ told Campos it was her call.
They gave him morphine so he wouldn’t be in pain, she said, but after doctors took out his breathing tube he slipped away in minutes.
“I held his hand and told him that everything was going to be OK. I was well taken care of,” she said. “I feel like that was the only thing he was scared of — me not being fine.”
Campos said the emotions didn’t hit her until days later, when she was moving her stuff out of her rented apartment and into her cousin’s home down the street. She donated her dad’s clothes to the Goodwill he volunteered at and neighbors took everything else from a pile outside the door.
Now she’s 20, renting a room in her cousin’s house and preparing for part time classes at MDC. She’s getting used to doing everything by herself, not just dialysis.
It would help if she had gas money to get to-and-from the hospital, IKEA gift cards to furnish her room, a MacBook for her college courses, an H&M gift card for new clothes and money to get her phone fixed.
“Once I get my kidney and I’m in college with a job..,” she trails off, smiling at the thought of her future. She imagines a cozy apartment, a fulfilling career and a pet pig named Penny.
Her cousin, unlike Campos, is a Jehovah’s Witness, so she’ll spend Christmas with her best friend’s family.
What’s on her wish list?
“Anything from Sephora,” she said with a grin.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.