Stories of Hope: Ana Maria Villalobos

DLAC13_Villalobos_AnaMaria_081013At age 27, Ana Maria Villalobos was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the joints. Over time, the illness destroyed the cartilage in many of her extremities and was the cause of agonizing pain and severe mobility restrictions.

Ana Maria, a Mexico City native, had a left hip replacement in 2002, a left knee replacement in 2007, a right knee replacement in 2008, and a right hip replacement in 2011.

“I was told by my doctor that the bone of tissue donors was made into a cement paste that glued my bones and allowed me to heal better and faster,” said a grateful Villalobos. “If it wasn’t for the people who said yes to tissue donation and my surgeries, I would be in a wheelchair today.”

However, her appreciation for the gift of life started much earlier. As she struggled with her illness, her own son, Moises Barrios, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2003. Moises was in his early thirties and the diagnosis was devastating – starting dialysis turned his life upside down.

“He was on dialysis for nine years. They were the most difficult and painful years of my life. Every time he would leave for the treatment, he would say ‘I’ll see you in a while!’ I would close the door and pray to God that he would come back to me. Some days he would come back with his eyes down, looking sad, and he would tell me, ‘Remember such and such person I told you about? He lost the fight.’ We did not talk about it, but I would wonder when his time would come up.”

It was during those long years of waiting that Ana Maria, in her search for information and resources to help her son, found out about the opportunity to educate the Latino community about the need for donation. As an Embajadora de Done Vida volunteer for Donate Life California, she devoted countless hours sharing her experiences as the mother of a dialysis patient on the waiting list. Ana Maria volunteered weekly at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, educating her compatriots about donation and transplantation, and visited churches and health fairs to spread the message.

When the ninth anniversary of his dialysis treatment was coming around, Moises got a call from his transplant center that a kidney had been matched to him – a moment of pure joy for Ana Maria. However, the success of a transplant is impossible to predict, and in Moises’ case, it did not work well from the very beginning. A year after his transplant, Moises passed away.

One month after Moises’ passing and thanks to her surgeries and tissue donation, Ana Maria was already doing what she loves best: introducing people to the need for organ and tissue donation at a community event.

“I do it for Moises,” states Ana Maria. “I know what people on the waiting list and their families go through. I don’t want anyone to experience that. If I can help, if it is only one life, I’ve done my purpose.”

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