When Carlos Gonzalez was a young teenager in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, his sharp-eyed mother noticed some worrisome signs. Her son was overweight. A dry crust appeared around his lips, he was constantly thirsty, and his urine was discolored. The clues stood out to Carlos’s mother, who had Type 2 diabetes. She took him to a doctor, where he too was diagnosed with the disease.
The doctor prescribed Metformin, a medication to control his blood sugar, for Carlos, but his diabetes continued to plague him as he grew up and eventually left Guanajuato for Colorado. In 2005, he soaked his feet while power-spraying the walks around a McDonald’s where he worked. The moisture created a tiny sore that never healed – a common issue for people with diabetes. The wound worsened over time and eventually Carlos had to have his right leg amputated below the knee. He went on disability in 2009.
UCHealth Hispanic Transplant Program
Of the roughly 106,000 patients currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the U.S., about 20% are Hispanic or Latino. Many will miss out on accessing life-saving health care due to language and cultural barriers. The UCHealth Hispanic Transplant Program has a dedicated team of bilingual health care professionals to serve a Spanish-speaking population that otherwise may have been missed. It was one of the first programs of its kind across the United States.
To learn more about the program, visit our website. Para español, llame al 720.848.0005 y presione 8.
For information regarding insurance coverage please call Connect for Health Colorado at 855-752-6749 or visit connectforhealthCO.com.
His diabetes-related problems were not over. People with Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for kidney disease and failure, and Carlos was no exception. Several years after his amputation, Carlos began suffering nausea, vomiting, swelling and shortness of breath. In 2017, tests showed his kidneys were functioning at just 35% of normal and deteriorating.
Carlos faced a new set of challenges. He had to undergo dialysis to cleanse his blood of the toxins his failing kidneys couldn’t eliminate on their own power. His days were gloomy, but his dialysis ultimately set him on a path he hadn’t imagined.
The Hispanic Transplant Clinic
With the help of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Hispanic Transplant Clinic and the UCHealth Transplant Center – Anschutz Medical Campus, Gonzalez qualified for a kidney transplant and received a new organ in April 2021. The successful surgery not only helped restore a good measure of his health but also cemented his desire to help other Hispanic patients struggling with kidney disease, said Gladiz Martinez, a clinical educator with UCHealth.
“He is now one of our guest speakers with the Hispanic Clinic group at UCHealth,” Martinez said. “He is a strong advocate for Hispanic/Latino patients going through end stage renal disease. His mission is to help others learn and navigate our complex medical system.”
Carlos began his advocacy during his initial, twice-weekly dialysis treatments. They were necessary for “sheer survival,” he said, and he remained very weak.
“I got to the point that I was so swollen that the day before dialysis I had to sleep sitting up or I would be gasping for air,” he recalled.
At the dialysis clinic, Carlos joined a support group called Club Latinos de Riñon, or Latin Kidney Club. After he obtained insurance, the clinic referred him to Dr. Monica Grafals, associate professor in the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, who established the Hispanic Transplant Clinic. Grafals’ mission to improve access to transplant services for the chronically underserved Hispanic community dovetailed with Gonzalez’s desire to support his peers struggling with kidney disease. For many of them, a kidney transplant was at best a faraway option.
“I was interested in learning how to inform the Hispanic community about transplant,” Carlos said.
As for his own transplant, Carlos admits that after his referral to the Hispanic Transplant Clinic he was initially intimidated by the required tests and worried about the “financial implications” of the procedure. The clinic staff and providers eased his worries, he said.
“I decided to go ahead with the process, and as I was going through it, I felt a lot of support and that I was being taken care of,” he said.
Getting the kidney transplant he needed
After getting on the transplant waiting list, Carlos received the much-anticipated phone call that a donor kidney was ready for him. He had his transplant surgery April 5, 2021, at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. He had an initially difficult recovery and was hospitalized for an additional three weeks. During that painful time, he had “serious second thoughts” about his transplant decision.
With time, the pain subsided, his incisions healed, and his doubts vanished. “I regretted having those thoughts, I feel so very well now,” he said. “I am also very blessed to have support from my family and friends, and I keep up with my post-transplant care as I should.”
Diabetes is still a presence in his life, of course, and he said he “monitors it all the time.” The attention includes watching his diet, keeping his doctor’s appointments regularly and wearing a continuous glucose monitor to manage his blood sugar levels.
“I feel very different today,” Carlos said. “I had had depression, anxiety and sadness because there were a lot of things I couldn’t do before the transplant. Now I can do everything I couldn’t do before.”
Carlos offers encouragement to patients today who may be in the tough situation in which he found himself before the transplant.
“It’s very important to keep going and take advantage of the opportunities that this country can give you,” he said. “It’s also important to be intelligent with your health care and make sure your doctor keeps good follow-up with you.”