Diocesan News

Wife’s Kidney Helps Save Husband’s Life

After 21 years together, Zaida and Jose Cordero know that marriage requires a certain level of give and take, and a willingness to sacrifice for the other.

Four weeks ago, Zaida, 39, made the biggest sacrifice of their married life thus far when she gave a kidney to Jose during an early morning surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.

Zaida and Jose Cordero
Zaida and Jose Cordero

“I put it in God’s hands,” she said on a recent morning in her Bensonhurst home. “There was pain but, thank God, everything is fine.”

Jose, 43, who has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes clusters of grape-like cysts to grow in the kidneys, was diagnosed at age 35 after suffering constant abdominal pains.

The gravity of that diagnosis didn’t hit home until the couple, parishioners at St. Rosalia-Regina Pacis, Bensonhurst, visited their native Ecuador three years ago. A specialist explained the extent of the disease and told Jose that he’d need a kidney transplant one day.

Once his kidney function dropped below 20 percent, he would have to start dialysis and his name could be placed on a wait list for a transplant.

According to the United Network of Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that manages the nation’s organ transplant system, over 93,000 people are currently on the kidney transplant wait list. Most will wait five years or more for a kidney from a deceased donor.

Jose never asked anything of his wife; she made the decision and sacrifice freely.

“With dialysis, I knew he would suffer a lot,” Zaida said. She couldn’t bear to see her husband go through that pain, or for their children, Edwin, 20, Christopher, 16 and Lesly, 15, to witness it.

She understood the risks of donating an organ: She’d be reducing her own lifespan, and Jose’s body could reject the transplant.
Another consideration was her daughter, who also has this hereditary disease. Doctors asked if she was certain she wanted to give a kidney to her husband when her daughter may need it someday.

Through prayer, she reasoned that Lesly is in good health and may never need a transplant. If that day ever comes, however, Zaida says she’s confident that “God is going to send someone for her.”

When Jose’s kidney function dropped to 17 percent earlier this year, Zaida gave the green light and doctors scheduled the surgery.

“I thank God she saved my life,” Jose said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Trusts in God

Zaida admits she was scared at first, but realized that as long as she trusts in God, there is nothing to fear. “So many people feel afraid to donate even blood,” she said. “It’s an amazing thing that we can help others survive. This is an amazing gift God gives us.”

During their recovery, the couple has had no nurses or home attendants. Their children have helped them with activities of daily living while also tending to the cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Early on, Jose had a minor setback, which required a brief hospitalization, but now he is getting stronger. His and Zaida’s pain is subsiding. Both hope to be working again in a few weeks.

Since Jose cannot drive for six months, he won’t be able to return to his job as a car service driver. He is looking for alternate employment.

Zaida will resume her position performing household work at Visitation Monastery, Bay Ridge, where she and her family have developed a connection with the semi-cloistered Visitation Sisters.

“It is a good family, very united by faith and love,” shared Sister Mary Cecilia Cho, V.H.M., who works with Zaida and knew of Jose’s condition.

When the possibility arose for Zaida to donate her kidney, the sisters journeyed with her as she worked through her fears and arrived at a decision.

On the day of the surgery, the Visitation Sisters offered “intense prayers” for the family and the entire medical team.

“I am totally moved and touched by her courageous action,” Sister Mary Cecilia said. “It is pure love and charity.”

Good Pain, Hopeful Pain

Though she is unable to visit, Sister Mary Cecilia often telephones Zaida and Jose to see how they’re feeling. She reminds them that the pain they’re feeling is “a good pain, a hopeful pain.”

Looking back on the past few years, Jose can see how God has brought goodness and hope to his suffering. As his physical health declined, he says his faith grew and deepened.

Desperate for a cure, at one point Jose underwent a “treatment” of bee stings, up to 90 per day, and a diet of watermelon for eight months in Ecuador while his wife and children were in New York.

In hindsight, Jose knows he almost died but explained, “You’ll do anything. You just want to feel better.”

Lonely and scared, he turned to God in those months, and found solace in attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist and reading the Bible.

When he returned to Brooklyn, he started going to Mass with his family and now enjoys being involved at St. Rosalia-Regina Pacis, where his wife is a lector, his daughter is an altar server and his sons are ushers.

“Before it was hard to bring him (Jose) to the church,” Zaida said. “I saw other families come and I’d say one day I want to be like them. …

“Now we’re involved in everything. It’s amazing. God hears my prayers.”

Wife Gives Husband the Gift of Life