Broward County

Donor dads give the gift of life with organ donations

Broward Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Samuel Samaroo, left, donated a kidney to his 19-year-old son, Elijah, or E.J. The father and son hang out and play pool at their Coral Springs home.
Broward Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Samuel Samaroo, left, donated a kidney to his 19-year-old son, Elijah, or E.J. The father and son hang out and play pool at their Coral Springs home. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

When a Broward Sheriff’s deputy discovered his 19-year-old son needed a kidney, he immediately offered his own.

When a husband and father of two children learned his wife wouldn’t make it without a new kidney, he donated his so his wife would be there for the proms, graduations and other milestones of a parent and child.

And when a dad watched his son go through more than 30 blood transfusions in a losing battle to cancer, he began donating blood and organizing blood drives to save other children.

“I would give whatever I had to for my son,” said Carlos Diaz, who lost his 5-year-old son, Nicolas, to cancer in 2013. “I brought him into this world; I had to protect him.”

While Father’s Day is a time to honor dads, the holiday takes on a more solemn meaning for some in South Florida. By literally giving of themselves to help save their child or other children, the fathers have taken heroic action, deepening the bonds with those they love.

“My dad gave me life twice,” said Elijah “E.J.” Samaroo, 19, whose father Samuel gave him a kidney because lupus caused his to fail. “There is no gift I can give him that tops that.”

For Samuel Samaroo, 44, a sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, seeing his son happy and healthy is a gift enough.

“Watching your son fade away is the worst thing a father can go through,” he said. “He can now live a long, happy life.”

Giselle Guerra, director of the Miami Transplant Institute at the UHealth/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, said parental instinct often kicks in when there is a medical emergency.

“It’s very obvious that as a parent you are willing to give your life for your child,” Guerra said.

But living organ donations don’t always happen. A donor has to be healthy, have the same blood type and be mentally prepared for the surgery. In the case of kidneys, a person can donate one of his or her two kidneys and still be fine, although there is a recovery from the procedure.

Sara Rivero-Conil, a pediatric psychologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, said she often sees dads who feel helpless and are willing to take their child’s place.

“A father’s love is different than any other love,” she said.

Dad donates kidney to wife ‘for the sake of the family’

Craig Glover learned from his father Paul what it meant to be a dad.

“He taught me that you do whatever you have to do for your kids,” said Glover.

So when Craig, 54, learned that his wife, Bonnie, and mother of their sons needed a kidney, he immediately offered one of his. In a twist of fate, someone else had a better kidney match than he did. But Bonnie could get that kidney only if Craig would give his to a complete stranger.

The Glovers became part of the first four-way exchange transplant performed in Florida. On April 9, three married couples and a mother and son went in for surgery at the Miami Transplant Institute at the UHealth/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.

Craig’s kidney went to Marilyn Huggins, 36, who started having kidney failure in 2013. Her husband, Randy Martinez, wanted to donate, but doctors said another kidney would be a better match.

Bonnie, 53, received a kidney from Patricia Russell, whose husband John needed a kidney.

John Russell received a kidney from Deanna Kroeger, whose 22-year-old son, Taylor, received a kidney from Randy Martinez.

Craig said being able to help someone else was a “blessing” after he learned he couldn’t help his wife of nearly 30 years.

“We’ve always been givers,” he said.

Bonnie Glover’s health issues began when she became pregnant with her first son, Matthew, in 1992. She was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a future indicator of diabetes. She managed to keep her health issues under control, however.

Along the way, the couple got good at compromising. When she wanted to go to law school, he worked and helped with their newborn. When he went back to school to earn an MBA, she worked and cared for the family.

When she became pregnant with their second son, Benjamin, born in 1996, Bonnie’s health issues flared up. During the pregnancy, she had several blood transfusions and was in an induced coma for 11 days. After he was born, she suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

By October 2013, she said she could hardly breathe. Her doctor made her go to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with kidney failure.

“I fought with my doctor,” she said. “I didn’t want to go on dialysis.”

She didn’t have a choice. By December, she was placed on the waiting list for a new kidney.

Having someone willing to give up their kidney bumped her up on the list, said Dr. Giselle Guerra, director of the living kidney donor program at the Miami Transplant Institute.

After the April surgery, Bonnie says she has more energy than ever. She said her husband’s gift has inspired her to “take better care” of herself.

“What a great dad, what a great husband,” she said. “To know that you are really loved makes the greatest difference in the world.”

Having a new kidney meant she could see her first-born son graduate from Yale University in May. She looks forward to seeing her second son graduate from the University of Chicago.

For Craig, the recovery has been slow, but he is getting there. He has no regrets.

“This is really more about our kids,” he said. “I want her to live a long healthy life so she can see her children and grandchildren grow up.”

After losing son to cancer, dad donates blood to save other children

Carlos Diaz always hated needles and suffered blackouts from the sight of blood.

But now Diaz, 40, holds out his arm and donates blood every three months.

His change of heart: He promised his 5-year-old son Nicolas — who died from cancer — that he would do what he could to save other children.

“Every time I give blood, I feel closer to him,” he said, fighting back tears. “I don’t ever want any child to die because there isn’t enough blood.”

Nicolas Anthony Diaz was born on Dec. 10, 2008. When Diaz found out his then-wife Johanna Guevara was pregnant, he was overjoyed. Weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and measuring 19-inches long, Nicolas was jaundice when he was born but “otherwise perfect,” said Diaz, who works in the information technology department for Miami-Dade Public Schools.

At 6 months, Nicolas got his first ear infection. Then came others. Doctors told Diaz his son either needed tubes implanted or not be around children as much.

Diaz plucked him from daycare and hired someone to watch his son. After about a year, Nicolas went back to daycare and things got better. But by age 3, he got another ear infection. He ended up in the hospital with seizures.

In February 2013, Diaz got a call from his ex-wife that Nicolas’ right eye crossed. He brought Nicolas to the doctor and was told it was a lazy eye. That didn’t make sense to Diaz.

“That doesn’t just happen,” he said. “We would have noticed that.”

On Feb. 14, 2013, Nicolas was admitted to Miami Children’s Hospital. Doctors performed an MRI but found nothing. Nicolas was released from the hospital; Diaz was told that Nicolas likely had Bell’s Palsy, a sudden weakness on one side of your face.

The right side of his face dropped. Then the left. Nicolas, who loved to play, grew lethargic and didn’t want to eat.

By March, Diaz returned to Miami Children’s, where a neurologist did a CAT Scan. The next day, Diaz got the news: Nicolas had leukemia and Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which cancer starts in the immune cells. For Nicolas, the tumor developed between his eyes.

Doctors began an intense treatment regimen, including chemotherapy.

“He never complained about anything,” said Diaz.

When Diaz learned Nicolas had cancer, his only thought was: “I would give whatever I had to to save him. As a father, I felt the responsibility to do anything, even if it meant giving up every body part.”

Doctors said Nicolas would need several blood transfusions, but they did not recommend that Diaz donate his blood. They said Nicolas may need a bone marrow transplant and told Diaz to save his blood for that.

Diaz reached out to his colleagues at Miami-Dade Schools. They organized a blood drive and donated pints and pints in Nicolas’ name.

“My son was lucky because there was plenty of blood for him, but that is not always the case,” he said.

By April, doctors said the leukemia was in remission, but Nicolas still had tumors. In September, doctors said Nicolas was cancer free and that he would receive the final rounds of treatment.

But on the last day of treatment, the right side of his face drooped again. A tumor had grown behind his ear.

Doctors gave Nicolas a 3 percent chance of survival. They began radiation began and put Nicolas on steroids.

Nicolas turned 5 in the hospital and feasted on an entire cake. His birthday was Dec. 10.

Ten days later, Dec. 20, 2013, Nicolas died.

Diaz said seeing his son battle during his short life made him realize that nothing he will go through to donate blood will come close to what his son experienced. He set up a foundation in Nicolas’ name to hold blood drives and raise money for game systems to donate to the hospital.

Diaz said some of the best times he had with his son was bedtime when he sang him his favorite songs, including the Alphabet Song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. These days, Diaz has trouble looking up at the stars.

Dad donates kidney to wife ‘for the sake of the family’

The day Broward Sheriff Office Deputy Sgt. Samuel Samaroo received a call telling him he could donate a kidney to his ailing 19-year-old son, he sprung into action.

“It was a no-brainer,” said the father of four boys. “I’d do anything for my children.”

Even if it meant undergoing his first major surgery, taking off work in BSO’s training division and giving up his daily workout routine.

But that paled in comparison with his son E.J’s issues. E.J. had lupus, an autoimmune disease that can wrack havoc on your organs. At times, E.J. couldn’t get out of bed, had to be home-schooled and could never play sports like his brothers.

Before the pair went to the Miami Transplant Institute at UHealth/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, E.J. took to Instagram to mark the occasion., calling it “the biggest day” of his life.

“I want to thank my father for deciding to donate his kidney to me,” he wrote. “I wish one day I can be as great of a father as he has been to me. He is the strongest person I know and I can never repay him for this. This is such a life-changing experience and I know that God has an ultimate plan for us since we've been put in such a pivotal position in life.”

E.J. was born on Aug. 3, 1995 in Hollywood, the youngest of four boys. Samaroo, 44, said he always thought E.J. would be the wrestler of the family; Samaroo loved to wrestle and wanted to train him.

He began training him, but when E.J. turned 12 he got a rash. Soon after he was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic disease in which antibodies attack and destroy healthy tissue.

E.J. could no longer go out in sunlight, couldn’t play sports and had limited contact with others due to the risk of infection.

E.J., however, refused to get down, Samaroo said. He began developing websites and started his own clothing line, which Kanye West and Rob Kardashianfeatured on the television show, “Meet the Kardashians.”

But lupus led to complications and in January 2015, Samaroo got the call he dreaded. His wife was crying. Their son’s heart had stopped; a team of doctors had to revive E.J.

“That was the worst thing to have to see as a parent,” he said.

He knew he had to give up his kidney for his son, especially when he learned E.J. could be on a wait list for two to three years. Samaroo said he had always taken care of himself and knew he’d be OK without one of his kidneys.

Dr. Giselle Guerra, director of the living transplant program at the Miami Transplant Institute, said there are 1,800 people on their waiting list alone. In 2014, the Institute performed 103 transplants from live donors. Kidney transplants are the most common type of organ transplants, she said.

“Altruistic donors make a huge difference in a person’s life,” she said.

On Feb. 26., father and son posed for a picture with their thumbs up before being wheeled in for surgery. E.J. said as soon as the anesthesia wore off, he felt better than he had for months. While on dialysis, he was barely able to drink and his diet was limited.

Today, E.J. eats hamburgers and salads, which he couldn’t when his kidneys weren’t working. He said he feels great and loves the freedom of not being on dialysis.

Father and son say they are closer than ever. As for Samaroo, he is slowly getting used to life with one kidney. He is exercising lightly, hoping to get back to his old routine.

“I think he is entitled to a happy and healthy life,” said Samaroo. “For me that’s the greatest gift. You can buy toys and cars, but life is priceless.”