EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral) – April is Donate Life Awareness month. Hospitals across the nation are encouraging more people to become organ donors including here in the Rio Grande Valley.

According to Donate Life Texas, 40% of adults in the valley are registered organ donors, but doctors say that number can grow.

Back in 2015 Edinburg resident Joseph Ramirez was diagnosed with kidney failure and was in urgent need of a transplant. Ramirez waited for months to find a new kidney, and it was a long wait for him.

“At that moment I was in a lot of pain I was practically giving up already,” Ramirez said. ” I couldn’t take it anymore and there were just some other complications that were going on too.”

But Ramirez tells ValleyCentral he was lucky his friend of more than 20 years ended up being a match.

“Just to give somebody a second chance at life,” Ramirez said. ” I can’t thank her enough, every day I talk to her it’s like I can’t thank you enough.”  

Joseph’s friend Lina Ramirez said she did not hesitate on helping her friend get another chance at life.

“Later after the testing, I received a phone call after that I was a match and that if I wanted to continue,” Lina said. “They told me just reach out to your support group and let us know, so that’s what happened.”  

Ramirez received his life-saving surgery through DHR Health’s Transplant Institute. Transplant Surgeon Dr. Jose Almeda tells ValleyCentral that most patients in the valley usually wait between five to seven years for a new kidney. For some patients, the long wait comes to a tragic end.

“During those years, they are still in dialysis, and unfortunately some of them don’t make it that long,” Almeda said.

The majority of DHR Health’s kidney donations are from people who have already died. But Dr. Almeda also encourages more family members and friends to become donors since that can speed up the waiting process for patients.

“If you can only do one thing today is talk to your family and let them know what your wishes are so that if that were ever to happen it’s your decision and their following through with your decision,” Almeda said.

As for living donors like Lina, she said the impact can last a lifetime.

“Until you do it then you can understand,” Lina said. “But to know that you saved someone is special.” 

The DHR Health Transplant Institute only provides kidney transplants locally but is looking to expand to liver transplants in the near future.

Anyone interested in becoming an organ donor can register through Donate Life Texas.