Leacardia Rios enjoys a friendly lunch with her friend, and kidney donor, Debbie O’Connor at Upper Crust in Fredonia. OBSERVER Photo by Julie Spears

Leacardia Rios enjoys a friendly lunch with her friend, and kidney donor, Debbie O’Connor at Upper Crust in Fredonia.
OBSERVER Photo by Julie Spears

By JULIE SPEARS OBSERVER Staff Writer

Thank You Julie for your dedication to our cause

May 13, 2007

After a shocking unexpected diagnosis eight months ago, one young mom will have a new lease on life. The special miracle will come through the gift of a kidney donation and transplant.

“I would like to focus on Debbie and her kindness. Her selfless act will give me a chance at a better life. I am hoping one person will read this and do this for some else,” Leacardia Rios said.

Leacardia “Lea” Rios, went in for a routine physical on Aug. 28. Her doctor called her the next day when the bloodwork results came back and tests needed to be repeated.

The tests showed she was in stage five kidney failure and needed dialysis and had stage one cancer in one of her kidneys. Dialysis was started on Sept. 1.

Lea receives dialysis three days a week. April 3 she had surgery to remove the right kidney with the cancer. She said that in June or July the transplant of a new replacement kidney will take place. Her matching donor was found through the Kidney Connection Web site.

Lea is a 34-year-old Fredonia resident and a 2001 graduate from SUNY Fredonia. She said she has spent most of her life as a stay-at-home mom before taking employment with Goya Foods in 2002.

“I have a beautiful daughter named Anna. Anna is the love of my life and she has bought me so much joy and love. For me it’s not my pain that hurts me, it’s their pain,” Lea said. “I hear my daughter crying at night. I spent my life protecting her from pain and now I’m the cause.”

Lea’s daughter currently resides with her father due to her distress over the diagnosis given her mom, the fact that family members were not compatible, and that a donor would be needed to save her mothers life.

“I want to be normal again,” said a tearful Leacardia. “People think that because you are hooked up to a machine you are OK but you are not. You are there hooked up for hours and hours.”

With the kidney donation from her new friend, her wish for a normal life will come true.

Lea learned about the Kidney Connection Web site and posted her information. A potential donor contacted her and they communicated by e-mail for a period of time. Soon they learned that Debbie O’Connor was a match.

O’Connor is a volunteer firefighter in the town of Evans and originally a Fredonia resident. The two women have been developing their special connection ever since, frequently talking on the telephone as well as meeting in person.

“We have so much in common. For example my daughters birthday is May 3rd and her daughter’s in on the 6th,” Leacardia said.

“When some one gives you a chance at life what do you do?” Lea said. This is her miracle.

O’Connor has worked as an Alcoholism/Substance Abuse Counselor for the past 15 years and is one who provides an example for her clients.

“During that time I have come to appreciate that each day of life is very precious and have stressed to my clients the importance of striving to make a positive difference in the world,” O’Connor said. “Whenever I cross paths with a new person, I attempt to be open to how I may be able to make a difference in that person’s life or they in mine. I am a strong believer that people are placed in other people’s lives at a specific time and for a specific reason.”

O’Connor said she was not aware that a non-family member could be a kidney donor match until reading an article about a non-family member from Alaska who was donating a kidney to a man from Western New York. The article led to her accessing the Web site for more information.

“I was immediately drawn to Lea, in part because she lived in Fredonia and I had grown up in Fredonia. Since we met we have discovered that we have a great deal in common,” O’Connor said. “She is a wonderful, positive, caring person and I feel blessed to be able to make a difference in her life.”

The Kidney Connection Web site, www.kidneyconnection.com, was set up by “Women on a Mission” members and includes Patti Merritt of Grand Island, Diane Krzyzanowski of Akron, Jeanette Ostrom of Jamestown and Tina Long of Buffalo.

Although the four women had never met before, they came together because there was a need for a kidney either for themselves or someone they loved. The proactive group promotes Living Kidney Donations and education of those in need regarding being proactive in finding donor.

The Web site also includes follow-up information from those who have been successful in finding a donor and are now living healthy lives.

The site has proven to have a positive impact for individuals faced with the need for a kidney transplant as is visible by the pictures and success stories posted on the site.

Comments on this article may be sent to jspears@observertoday.com