When Raquel Ramos was in her third year at California State University, Los Angeles working on her bachelor’s degree in education, fevers and rashes started to ravage her once-athletic body. Before finals that year, she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, remaining in a coma for three days.
After she awoke, the doctors still did not know what was wrong. After several tests, they finally determined she had Lupus Nephritis and the disease had caused her kidneys to fail.
That was six years ago. Now she has dialysis treatments three times a week for three hours each time and it has taken a toll on her body. Her only hope is a living kidney donor.
“It’s hard. I want to finish school and have a boyfriend,” said Raquel, now 30, who lives in Whittier with her sister and mother, Annette Ramos, a longtime Southern California Edison employee. “I want to have my life … and I can’t.”
Annette remembers her once-vibrant daughter, a water polo athlete who helped care for her younger sister, Celeste, 27. These days, Raquel has trouble doing basic tasks because she can’t stand long without losing her balance after bone degeneration resulted in two hip replacement surgeries.
With limited mobility and dialysis treatments, Raquel is unable to work. As a single mother, Annette is her daughter’s sole provider and it has taken a toll on her financially.
“It’s been really hard on Raquel,” said Annette, who has taken time off work for her daughter’s care. “I do what I can do. I’m her biggest cheerleader. [Raquel] has been a trooper.
“What she needs is a kidney donor,” she said, noting that her daughter’s blood type is A-positive.
Many of Raquel’s family members have been tested to see if they are possible matches to donate. Her father and mother were not a match due to health issues and her sister also carries the Lupus gene.
In April, the Ramos’ thought their prayers had finally been answered when a cousin was tested and determined to be a match. Surgeries were scheduled at Keck Medicine of USC, but just as things were coming together, final tests eliminated him as a donor.
Raquel has been on the kidney donor list now for the past six years. According to the Living Kidney Donors Network, patients can wait up to 10 years for a deceased donor. Each year, 45,000 people die waiting for a kidney transplant.
These days, Raquel’s life revolves around her dialysis treatments. She also suffers from bouts of depression and is now on medication for that. When she can, she spends time with her friends from church.
With a compromised immune system, she has to be careful with her diet. She eats mostly fish and vegetables. And she can’t have anything with salt, so she doesn’t eat out anymore.
Once she has a new kidney, Raquel has already decided what her first meal will be.
“The first thing I want to eat is pizza, refried beans and some chocolate cake,” she said.
She also has big plans for when she is healthy again. She wants to finish her bachelor’s degree and work as a teacher. She wants to travel, maybe to Texas. And she wants to learn some new languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Tagalog.
“I have faith there is a living donor out there that will come forward, but hasn’t been contacted yet,” said Raquel. “I want to start life over again and be healthy.”
For information on how to become a kidney donor: contact Keck Medicine of USC at 800-872-2273 or transplant.keckmedicine.org/kidney/.