Rayna & Dad, 2008

Every little girl’s first love is her daddy. This story takes father-daughter love to a whole new dimension, not because of what dad did, but because of what he needed most and how it was provided by his daughter, Rayna Hortinela Salminao. Rayna and I were neighbors for years in San Diego, and I never knew this story about my thoughtful GenXer neighbor till this week. Her unique story is told not by her, but by her two grateful sisters, Ronaliza Hortinela Balancio and Richel Hortinela-Duden. It is a story of love of family and faith in a big God, where one feeds the other and the cycle continues. Get your tissues, and read on!

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Our dad was first diagnosed with renal (kidney) disease in 1998, as a result of his battle with diabetes. He was put on a very strict diet, medication, and needed insulin shots constantly. He had no appetite. It seemed to exhaust him just to move or speak. We slowly watched as our energetic, workaholic father’s health began to deteriorate. Some days, he looked so swollen, or his skin looked so gray and discolored. He was put on a plethora of medications that at times did more harm than good. One pill would give him nausea, another given to counteract, then the counteracting drug would have its own different side effect.

By the year 2000, his kidneys had failed, functioning less than 10%. This forced him to begin peritoneal dialysis through a permanent tube in his stomach. His peritoneal dialysis took the whole night for the process to complete: about 3 gallons of fluid would flow into his stomach at night, by morning draining out the toxins with it. Dialysis worked – for about five years. A few times, Dad experienced the quick and painful onset of an infection, which would have been fatal, if not treated immediately. A kidney transplant was our only hope.

Before he could be placed on a transplant list, Dad would endure surgery for a hernia, another for his gallbladder, oral surgery for his teeth, and then the most painful, prostate surgery. It is important to mention that all these surgeries were a consequence of renal failure. All his other organs had to work overtime in order to compensate.
He suffered a mild heart attack that revealed he had massive congestive heart failure. All the extra load put on his heart had just taken its toll. There was no other choice but to have a cardiac surgery that the doctors described as high risk,with only a 50% chance of survival.

That night before his heart surgery, we said our goodbyes to Dad, as if it were the last time. We all managed to climb onto Dad’s hospital bed and prayed the Rosary. I looked around the room at my brother and sisters and realized that we kids were all adults now, but we still needed our Dad so much. In this moment, Dad, who was previously so weak, suddenly looked so strong and confident. He told us not to worry and that everything was going to be fine. In the midst of it all, his incredible faith in God told him everything would be ok. We remember going to bed that night thinking when we wake up in the morning, we may not have a Dad.

The next morning he had a quadruple bypass, open heart surgery. Seeing him in the ICU was one of hardest moments in our lives. He was boxed in a sterile enclosure and there were tubes everywhere. He had staples going from his ankle to his thigh, where they removed a vein to replace the clogged arteries surrounding his heart. They inserted another catheter in his shoulder for hemo-dialysis, in place of peritoneal, while his body was healing. He managed to wiggle his toes to acknowledge he knew we were there. He couldn’t do much else.

When his body healed from the heart surgery, his overnight dialysis was not as effective as before. A “mini-dialysis” session during the day was added, which meant limitations to his freedom and increasing his chance of infection. His red blood cell count began to decline and he passed out a couple of times.

His greatest challenge was “staying healthy” till he reached the top of the transplant list.

We soon realized that we couldn’t wait around on the system. So we, the kids, got proactive and checked into becoming donors at the UCSD transplant center. To our amazement, three of us four kids were all matches.

Our brother, Chris volunteered to be first in line for the testing because Lisa and Rayna both had young children. There where many tests which Chris passed with flying colors, but at the last minute they disqualified him as a suitable donor. He had too many arteries running through both his kidneys.

Next, Rayna volunteered. She insisted the testing be done as soon as possible and that the process be expedited quickly. Our greatest challenge was still keeping Dad healthy till one of us could donate a kidney.We knew we had to act quickly before something else went wrong.

Finally, after Rayna passed all the donor testing and Dad had also completed his long list of surgeries, a date was scheduled at last for the transplant. We were beside ourselves with joy (and disbelief). Until the phone call came.

Rayna received a call from the cardiologist that Dad’s heart was not strong enough for the surgery. They were not going to go through with the transplant. This was crushing news. But the worst was telling Mom. In order for Dad’s transplant to take place, the entire panel of specialists had to give their consent. Our mom, a pillar of strength through all the years of suffering, tearfully pleaded with one cardiologist after another: “Please, just give him a chance!”

Finally, Dr. Stein, one of Dad’s cardiologists, agreed to give us the green light if Dad could pass another extensive barrage of heart stress tests. He passed them all.

The transplant was scheduled. We held our collective breath. Would something go wrong this time?

Finally, the eve of the transplant arrived and all were in high spirits as we said goodnight to our Dad, and our sister Rayna. Her 9-year old son, Eyzian, had to say goodnight to his Mommy and his Papa. He was visibly upset.

Our Mom was the only one with Dad and Rayna at the hospital after we left. She says our sister was wheeled off making jokes with Dad so they would not worry.

Waiting was the worst part, especially for Mom. She had both her daughter and husband to lose. After, the longest time, we finally got word that the surgery was successful. We took Eyzian right away to see his Mom in recovery. He was so brave and quiet, and so relieved to know his mommy was alright.

No more than a few hours after the transplant, Richel burst into Rayna’s hospital room (which was right next to Dad’s); Rayna was barely coherent. Richel was jumping up and down with tears in her eyes yelling, “He’s peeing! He’s peeing!”

You may be confused by our joyous obsession with urination; it meant that Dad’s new kidney working – just like it was supposed to! It was working!

Since that day it has just gotten better. His color is back; he gained weight, and he goes for seconds on meals. “Gone are those days!” Dad says, and we can’t hear it enough. We are blessed everyday we have with our father; blessed with a future of grandchildren growing up to know their Papa. The Lord has given us a second chance, a new life with our father in it. And we can never repay our sister for giving him back his health, happiness, and the rest of his life.

Rayna and Dad are in the middle. Writer Richel is in the circle on the left and writer Ronaliza is in the circle on the right.This photo was taken eight years post transplant in 2016.

Chris’ note: A few years after she gave Dad her kidney, Dad gave Rayna away at her wedding to Rommel (pictured at top of blog post). Not to be outdone, Rayna and Rommel have given Dad two more beautiful grandchildren. My special thanks to the Hortinela family for sharing their intergenerational love story.

You may not have experienced such big love that you would donate a part of your own body to keep another person alive. You may not have a person in your life that would donate an organ to keep you alive. But if you, like me, admire Rayna’s commitment and their family’s gratitude and faith, leave their family a comment below. 

If you need more information about organ donation, click here.


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