South Philadelphia resident, Jorge Arroyo, was blessed with good health when he was young. He stayed active, playing basketball and baseball, and he was always up to have fun in his neighborhood. His family was plagued with diabetes, and Jorge spent his life diligently getting his blood work checked to make sure that he was healthy. He was fortunate and was the only member of his family who escaped the disease.
Jorge is an outgoing man, always caring for others and wanting to offer a helping hand. He got married young, at 21 years old, and was close with his parents and older brother and sister. His natural tendency towards supporting others was a perfect fit for his career as a Pharmacy Technician at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, where he worked with chemotherapy patients. “I loved my job.” Jorge said. “It made me happy to be around people and make them feel better. I looked for patients who didn’t have visitors and would try to cheer them up and talk with them.”
At 31, life was good for Jorge. He had a happy family life with his wife and stepson, Chuck. He took pride in his work and enjoyed his day-to-day routine. Then, his life began to change. He went in for routine blood work and his doctor told him that his creatinine levels were off. Jorge was tested again, but the results were the same. He was showing signs of kidney failure. Luckily, the doctor said that his kidney disease seemed to be moving slowly, so Jorge was put on medication and advised to eat a low protein, restricted diet.
“No matter what I did, my numbers kept creeping up and my kidney function was declining. After several years of my kidneys suffering, I had to go on dialysis. At 36 years old, I was really sick and was put on the organ transplant waitlist. Over the next year that I was in dialysis, I lost nearly 50 pounds. It was horrendous.” said Jorge. “He felt weak and his mood and mental state suffered. He continued to work and would come home exhausted. Several times, he had to be rushed to the emergency room because he collapsed.
After a wait that seemed like it would never end, Jorge received the call that he’d been waiting for. Someone said “yes” to organ donation and there was a matching kidney available for him. He arrived at the hospital anxious and hopeful that he would receive the gift of life. Another man, a pastor, had also been called that night. “As soon as the pastor walked in, I felt calm.” said Jorge. “I’m not sure why, but he had such a strong presence. We introduced ourselves and realized that we were both there for the same purpose – to receive a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, the pastor wasn’t able to get a kidney that night, but he really helped me. We prayed together – with my whole family. He even came to visit me the next day to see how I was doing after my transplant. We still stay in touch.” he said.
Jorge’s kidney transplant was successful and he woke up surrounded by his family. His mother was the first person who he saw when he opened his eyes. His parents, originally from Cayey, Puerto Rico, kept their family close and stressed the importance of family to Jorge and his siblings. When he was young, Jorge’s parents moved their family back to Puerto Rico so the children could be with their grandparents and get to know them.
Since Jorge received a second chance at life in 2000, he has made giving back a priority. He wants to pay forward the gift that he’s been given, and volunteers regularly with Gift of Life and Gift of Life Family House. He shares his story in the community, volunteers at tabling events to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors and devotes time weekly to working at the Family House.
“If it wasn’t for my donor, I wouldn’t have been able to celebrate my 33rd wedding anniversary with my wife. My siblings also have children and I’ve been able to spend time with them too.” said Jorge. “I feel really lucky and I love to volunteer – especially at the Family House. That place is close to my heart. It makes me feel good to be able to bring some comfort to people staying there after they have a long day at the hospital.” he said.
Today, Jorge is healthy. “To me, I feel so blessed that someone – at such a critical time – gave me another chance. I was able to return back to having a normal life because of their choice to donate. I have so much energy since receiving my transplant and my life quickly changed for the better. I think if more people knew the facts about organ and tissue donation, they would register.” said Jorge.
September 15th-October 15th is Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a great opportunity to reach minority communities about the importance of registering as an organ donor, and to recognize Hispanics who have received the gift of life – like Jorge – and those who are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. It’s also an opportunity to honor the generosity of individuals and families who were able to give to others through donation.
Just one donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people, making a huge impact that is far-reaching. Register today at www.donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds.
About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. Gift of Life’s service area includes nearly 11 million people, and in 2015 the organization coordinated over 44 organ donors-per-million-population – ranking it among the highest in the world. For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds to register.