Wish Book

A kidney is what she needs for Christmas

Every time the phone rings Zelanda Larragoity hopes she hears the words that could save her life.

“I just want someone to say we have a kidney for you,” she said.

The 46-year-old said getting a kidney would mean she could get back to the life she once had, where she worked in a bank and supported herself and cared for her elderly father, Sucre Larragoity.

“I feel stuck,” she said. “I just want to be able to move forward.”

She is barely is making ends meet with her disability check and her father’s Social Security. She’s got the mortgage to pay, her medicines, food and utilities.

For the last few years, Zelanda has put others first. In January 2009, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her father, a few months later, was diagnosed with dementia.

She shuttered up her Hollywood home and moved in with her parents.

“They needed me,” she said.

After her mother died in January 2010, Zelanda moved back to her Hollywood home with her father. Shortly thereafter, she learned her kidneys weren’t working.

“I knew something was wrong, but I just didn’t want to face it,” said Zelanda, who said she never had any health issues most of her life.

She went in for a routine eye exam and learned the pressure in her eyes was abnormally high. The next thing she knew she was in the hospital diagnosed with kidney failure. So began her life on dialysis.

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, she is hooked up to a machine that cleans her blood of toxins. The process causes blotchy skin and drains her of energy. There are days where she sleeps the rest of the day after a treatment.

“No one would hire me,” said Zelanda, who worked most recently as a compliance officer for a bank until the day she went into the hospital. She said she wants nothing more than to put her business degree from New York University to use and return to working in a bank.

And while she is trying to stay healthy, she is worried about her 76-year-old father.

He remembers bits and pieces of his past: His childhood in the Dominican Republic, his wife Martha. But his mind wanders.

During the day he goes to the Joseph Meyerhoff Senior Center/Southeast Focal Point Adult Day Care program in Hollywood, which nominated Zelanda for The Miami Herald’s Wish Book.

“I think she is really the epitome of a loving and caring caregiver,” said Arlene Plutchok, supervisor of Southeast Focal Point Adult Daycare. “She has gone through such difficult times and yet her life is about her father and not herself.”

Sitting at the wooden kitchen table, Zelanda hovers over her father as he reads from a book about God. Some days he colors, other days he learns about history. One wish would be to take her father on a trip to Washington, D.C., where he can see the White House, the Capitol and the Washington Monument.

“I want him to keep learning,” she said. “He hasn’t been on vacation for years.”

But her first priority is getting healthy. She is on the waiting list at Jackson Memorial Hospital for a kidney. According to Jennifer Piedra, spokeswoman for Jackson Health System, there are about 1,000 people on the list for a kidney. The average wait time is about two-and-a-half years, Piedra said. Zelanda has been on the list since July 2011.

The hospital does accept living donors as well. The person would have to have the same blood type – in Zelanda’s case O positive – and pass a full evaluation.

“To me it would be a second chance of life,” she said. “There is nothing more precious.”