Illinois Dad Gives Son (a Heart Transplant Recipient) One of His Kidneys: Father’s Day Will Be Extra Special This Year! by Donna John
June is a month full of family and fun, especially on the third weekend when families gather to celebrate dads. Father’s Day has become a very special holiday for the De La Cruz family of DeKalb, Ill. Their prayers were answered when their son, Ricky, received a life-saving heart transplant from an unknown donor and then experienced another miracle nearly two years later when Ricky received a kidney, and a second chance at life, from his dad.
Ricky De La Cruz was the firstborn baby for Dori and Lalo. Ricky arrived in July 1998 and Dori remembers there were medical hurdles almost since the day he arrived. Right after he was born the baby stopped breathing for several minutes and his organs started to shut down. The baby suffered damage to his brain and kidneys. They soon learned their precious baby boy had been born with Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a rare congenital heart defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates each year about 960 babies in the U.S. are born with HLHS, which equates to one out of every 4,344 U.S. babies born.
When Ricky was a teenager he was diagnosed with protein-losing enteropathy, which is a gastrointestinal problem that is typically brought on by heart failure. Ricky’s PLE diagnosis was a flag for his medical team who immediately referred him to Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago for further evaluation. In early 2016, the Lurie transplant team told Dori and Lalo that Ricky needed a life-saving heart transplant.
During meetings with a transplant coordinator and a transplant social worker at Lurie Children’s, it was recommended the family research the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) as an avenue for fundraising to help with transplant-related expenses. Ricky’s life-saving heart transplant took place on April 19, 2016. Ricky’s heart transplant went well but his recovery was rocky. Post transplant his kidneys were further damaged and he had to be placed on dialysis for a portion of his inpatient recovery time. “During the many days Ricky was hospitalized after getting his new heart, COTA funds helped us so much with food, lodging, gas and Chicago parking costs,” Dori said.
Ricky's new heart was doing great, but his kidneys could no longer keep up due to the previous damage they had suffered. On January 29, 2018, Lalo gave a kidney, and a second chance at life, to his son. This time the transplant took place at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Lalo recovered quickly and was released in a matter of days. Ricky was able to return home on March 1.
Since transplant Ricky has been living life to the fullest and doing all of his favorite things. According to Dori and Lalo, much of Ricky’s ability to live and enjoy his life once again is due to COTA. “... COTA has been by our side through Ricky’s two life-saving transplants. It gives us so much hope to know COTA is there to reduce our financial stress when the bills keep coming. During times when we are struggling, it is a blessing to know COTA support is available … for a lifetime.”
Happy Father’s Day to an amazing COTA Dad who is helping to make this dream a reality!
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