Hispanic Transplant Program gives woman gift of new kidney and no more dialysis

Nov. 3, 2022
Hilda Arrieta, a mother of three children, needed a kidney transplant and turned to the Hispanic Transplant Program for help.
Hilda Arrieta, a mother of three children, needed a kidney transplant and turned to the Hispanic Transplant Program for help.

Hilda Arrieta of Denver has plenty of demands in her daily life. She works full-time in a print shop and supplements her income with an afternoon part-time job. The work helps Hilda and her husband support their three children.

However, the load on Hilda, now 40, is lighter than it was five years ago. In April 2017, she was in poor health. She had unexplained bruising. Her urine was foamy. She gasped for air and suffered heart problems.

Hilda traveled from her small border town in Mexico to an emergency room in Amarillo, Texas, where she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. In plain terms, her kidneys were failing.

“I thought it was something I would get over,” Hilda said, adding that to her knowledge, no one in her family had kidney failure.

The kidney failure was not temporary. It was life-threatening. In August 2017 she began emergency hemodialysis twice a month to clean toxins from her blood. That kept her alive, but she couldn’t work.

“The first month was very hard,” Hilda said. “I had been very active, and not being able to work really affected me.”

A referral to the Hispanic Transplant Program

The start of 2018, however, marked a big change in Hilda’s fortunes. She began receiving hemodialysis on a regular schedule: three times a week for four hours. That enabled her to return to work. Her dialysis center provider also referred her to the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Hispanic Transplant Clinic. The team there helped Hilda through the process of qualifying for a new kidney, which she received in July 2019 at the UCHealth Transplant Center – Anschutz Medical Campus.

Hilda had the support of family and friends which is necessary to qualify for a transplant. But she said the Hispanic Transplant Clinic team played key parts in ironing out other important details that made the surgery possible. For example, Disnarda Santa Cruz helped Hilda meet the financial requirements to get on the transplant waiting list. Medical social worker Andrea Smith and administrative assistant Breezy Balcazar also supported Hilda, as did 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.

“The entire transplant team played a big role in helping me,” Hilda said.

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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.

In July 2019, Hilda had her kidney transplanted successfully at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “It worked out very well,” Hilda said. She said her levels of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to the body, are back to normal. That’s an important sign of health because chronic kidney disease decreases the number of red blood cells and can cause anemia, a condition that causes weakness, shortness of breath and many other debilitating symptoms.

“My energy levels are back up,” Hilda said. She added that she endured some side effects from the drugs needed to suppress her immune system and prevent organ rejection after the transplant, but she has learned to recognize and adapt to them. Hilda said she’s also made lifestyle changes, such as improving her nutrition and exercise levels, which have helped considerably.

“I’m learning how to take care of my body,” Hilda said.

She hasn’t stopped there. Hilda also leads the Facebook group Guerreras Latinas IRC, or Latin Warriors, to help inform and motivate Hispanic people considering kidney transplant.

“I want people to have a better quality of life after transplant and also while they are on dialysis,” Hilda said. She added that there are many misconceptions about kidney disease, dialysis and transplant that her group strives to clear up.

“There is a lot of ignorance, and part of my mission is to entice people to donate and be part of the living donor program,” Hilda said. “I want to inspire men and women alike.”

About the author

Tyler Smith has been a health care writer, with a focus on hospitals, since 1996. He served as a writer and editor for the Marketing and Communications team at University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth from 2007 to 2017. More recently, he has reported for and contributed stories to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Bioscience Association.