Carlos Hernandez has fought many battles, but none as vicious as the one he’s facing now.
The former serviceman and Kingsbury volunteer firefighter is combating kidney failure following a 2005 diagnosis of Henoch-Schonlein purpura that has put him in a life and death battle spanning over a decade.
“It’s kind of been our own personal war,” wife Vicki Hernandez said. “One of the hardest parts is just never knowing what to expect because one minute he could be feeling good, and the next second he could be in the ER, so its been a very unpredictable 15 years.”
With his kidneys shutting down, Hernandez is on the transplant list seeking a donor and is currently on the waiting list with three organizations — the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland; the Memorial Hermann Renal Transplant Center in Houston; and the Methodist Speciality and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio.
On March 23, 2017, Hernandez went into stage 5 renal failure and was rushed to Guadalupe Regional Medical Center for treatment.
“The last thing I remember is getting put on the gurney,” Carlos said. “The great thing is that we had friends here at the hospital, one of the firefighter’s wives who works there, she took full control.”
He was immediately intubated while doctors worked to figure out what was going on with the veteran,Vicki said.
Doctors later determined that Carlos was in kidney failure, Vicki said.
Carlos stayed intubated for several days and was placed on dialysis. The situation looked grim for her husband, and many were expecting the worst, Vicki said.
“We’re very grateful for dialysis because it has kept me alive,” Carlos said. “But in essence, it also adds to the problem, because it wears your body down. A lot of people who are on dialysis have heart problems, and a large majority of people that pass away on dialysis is due to heart problems, because for one, they don’t take care of themselves, and then dialysis itself puts a lot of stress on your body.”
Kidney failure can oftentimes be attributed to dietary measures, however, Carlos’ began as something much different.
Before the shutdown
The veteran’s road to kidney failure began in 2005 when Carlos said he contracted a disease known as Henoch-Schonlein purpura, also known as IgA vasculitis, while serving in Iraq.
“It just started from simple bronchitis,” Carlos said.” Whatever was in the air when I was in that country is what we’re thinking. I mean, I was perfectly fine when I came home for a funeral, and then I went back in good health, and I started to get sick. Once I went back they were burning more trash, burning all different kinds of equipment, animals, and all those kinds of stuff, and that’s when I got sick.”
According to the Mayo Clinic website, Henoch-Schonlein purpura is a disease that causes red blood cells to become inflamed and bleed. In Carlos’ case, this is seen as purplish bruise-like sores, he said.
The HSP led to IgA nephropathy, a form of kidney disease, in April 2006, which eventually led to his kidneys failing in 2017, effectively ending his career as a Kingsbury volunteer firefighter, Carlos said.
“IgA is a deposit to where it starts eating away at your kidney sponges,” Carlos said. “Your kidneys have a bunch of sponges that break everything down and makes sure you don’t spit out protein and blood. What the IgA is it starts mutating and starts eating you.”
Needing a kidney
Because his kidneys can no longer do their job correctly, Carlos has undergone dialysis three days a week for the past two years to prolong his life while he waits on the transplant list for a potential donor.
The wait can vary as a potential donor could fall into Carlos’s lap tomorrow or in 10 years before a match lines up with his O-Negative blood type, Vicki said.
“Donating a kidney can start a domino effect where a kidney is given to one recipient who has a donor lined up that may not match that particular person,” Vicki said. “By donating to someone who already has a donor, this allows that person’s donor to give their kidney to someone else who may match their specifications.”
According to the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance website, a single donor can save up to eight lives with an organ donation. With more than 120,000 men, women and children currently on the waiting list and 22 people perishing each day. The stakes are high for those who await a transplant.
To donate, volunteers must go through a five-step process which consists of steps like finding a donor, matching to the said recipient and the eventual transplantation.
While he waits for a kidney to become available, Carlos is working to educate others about kidney failure and living a healthier lifestyle.
“Statistically what kills a large majority of Hispanics is diabetes,” he said. “Rice, beans, tortillas, eventually that catches up to us. I think if more people got educated and understood what they are putting in their bodies and its effects, then they would be more cautious.”
It’s not just about eating healthier, Carlos said. Sometimes, it is as easy as walking a few extra steps a day.
“Even if you get up off your couch and walk around during commercials, that’s something,” he said.
Since being placed on dialysis, Carlos dropped from 330 pounds to about 245. He attributed his weight loss to a strict high-protein, low-carb diet that he follows every day, primarily consisting of white meat and eggs.
What makes the veteran’s situation even more difficult is that Carlos’ kidneys can no longer break down phosphorus, he said. This requires him to take medication that breaks down the mineral before it can get to his kidneys.
“Everything you eat has phosphorus in it,” Carlos said. “You have phosphorus in a cup of coffee, in water, everything. You got to be an ingredient reader. There are so many different phosphoruses out there that they kind of trick the consumer.”
For questions about kidney disease and dialysis or to donate, contact Vicki Hernandez at 830-433-0583 or email her at email@example.com or visit the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance at tosa1.org .
Joe Martin is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .