Tue, April 07

Kidney transplant a Uribe family affair<br><i>Longtime MUHS employee receives organ from son</i>

In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, Lupe Uribe and his son Miguel lay side by side in the pre-op room of Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix.

Lupe was waiting to receive the life-giving gift of a new kidney.

Miguel was waiting to give that gift.

Neither man thought of himself during those moments. Each worried about the other.

"I knew this was major surgery," said Miguel. "But I didn't think of it that way. I saw it as giving life back to my father who gave life to me."

As the donor, Miguel was to go first. After all, if his procedure wasn't successful, the doctors would have no reason to operate on Lupe.

Miguel's surgery took more than three hours; Lupe's, more than four. The first words out of both men's mouths were no surprise to Lupe's daughter, Laure.

"We're such a close-knit family," Laure said. "As they each came out of the surgery, they asked about each other."

Now, three weeks later, Laure has not lost the sense of blessing she felt that day in the hospital. "I thank God every day," she said. "Before I go to bed, and when I get up in the morning."

The story of Lupe's need for a kidney goes back about a year and a half, but the real story of the Uribe family's transplant goes back a lifetime. Miguel says it is all about the way his parents raised him and Laure and brother Lupe Jr., about the things their father taught them.

Lupe and his wife, Lydia, raised their three children in Clarkdale where Lupe was born and raised, and where he lived, except for six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, all of his life. Few people in the Cottonwood area are better known than Lupe, and fewer are more widely respected and loved.

He was never elected to a high-profile office, nor was he ever a celebrity. He earned respect by being honest and kind — by caring about kids — one person at a time.

Lupe worked at Mingus Union High School for 33 years. "I started as a bus driver and janitor," he said. "And I went on to be a truant officer." He said he just tried to encourage kids, to be straightforward with them.

Miguel said that he and his siblings knew how much their father was loved, but they worried when he had the opportunity to become a truant officer. They worried that he would be seen as the bad guy. But that never happened, Miguel said. Students and parents soon discovered that Lupe cared only about the well being of the kids.

About a year and a half ago, Lupe would come to understand how much his kindness meant to others. After suffering a heart attack, he was flown to Good Samaritan Hospital where he stayed for 108 days, nearly half of those days spent in ICU.

"Everything began shutting down," Lupe said, explaining that the heart attack had affected other internal organs. "Slowly, they started bringing me back, everything but my kidneys."

While in the hospital recuperating from the heart attack, Lupe estimates that he received more than a thousand notes and letters. "I had two big boxes full of cards."

He immediately began dialysis treatments three days a week at Verde Valley Medical Center. Laure said the worst thing about the dialysis was that the family could not plan trips together.

Before long, Lupe's three children came up with idea that one of them could donate a kidney to their father. At first, Lupe and Lydia weren't so sure they liked the idea.

"It was good," Lydia said. "But at the same time, we are older." They both worried about putting one of their children at risk.

"My three kids offered me a kidney," Lupe said. "Laure and Lupe Jr. are married, and Laure has two children. Miguel is the only one not married."

"Lupe thought and thought about it," Lydia said. "Finally, Miguel said, 'Dad, you'd do the same thing.'"

Eventually, it was decided the transplant was a good idea.

"Both my brother and sister wanted to do it," Miguel said. "But they're married and I offered to be tested first."

It turned out that Miguel was about as good a match for his father as could be found.

"When I found out I could, I didn't blink an eye," Miguel said. "I never thought about the pain or anything else — only how to get a better quality of life for my father."

Now, Lupe and Miguel are both doing well. Soon, both men will be able to pick up their lives as they once were. Miguel, 33, must stay on a diet and continue exercising to protect his remaining kidney. Lupe, 65, will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life to protect his new kidney.

Lupe will remain at his son's home in Phoenix for at least six more weeks so he can visit his doctor twice a week. But he is looking forward to returning to Clarkdale.

"It's so hot down here we're locked up in the house under the air-conditioner," Lupe said. He is walking daily, but he said the heat restricts his walks to the cooler early morning hours.

Lupe was grateful for the dialysis that kept him alive until he could receive a transplanted kidney. "It's wonderful," he said. "It gives you life. But not having to do it is the best thing.

"Now, I'll be able to do just about what I want and go where I want," he said.

For Lupe, thinking about all that has happened stirs some intense feelings.

"It really does get emotional," he said. "It's hard to explain. You want to cry; you want to be happy. It was a great gift.

"He loved me enough to give me a kidney."

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