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Zeeland man waits for kidney, overcomes health obstacles

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 00:00:26-04

ZEELAND, Mich. — A Zeeland man continues to wait on the transplant list, after his initial surgery was made possible by organ donation.

In 2018, Miguel Munoz III was experiencing some back pain. Doctors initially thought that he had pulled a muscle and sent him home. The next day, Munoz returned to the hospital where he was told his condition was something much worse, which is when he was referred to Butterworth Hospital.

Doctors then began running tests and other diagnostics. They discovered Munoz had been infected with MRSA in his blood. The infection had become so severe that it had ate away at his aorta, requiring surgery to repair and restructure it.

"I prepared for death, and then I prepared for the worst and then you know, hoping for the best outcome," said Munoz, who described preparing his end of life papers before surgery.

Doctors had initially given him a 50/50 chance to survive, but soon learned the odds were much more slim when doing surgery. As a result, surgeons had to use a portion of aorta from a cadaver to restructure roughly 13 centimeters.

"Afterward they said when they opened me up, they compared it all the jello that has been left out at room temperature. They said when they opened me up, so much more had been destroyed by MRSA than they could even have imagined," said Munoz.

Vascular surgeons often consider replacing the majority of someone's aorta as one of the most difficult surgeries they can perform. In Miguel's case, the surgery was complicated by the infection and the level of damage it had over his body.

"It would be reasonable to say that we were a little bit surprised by the extent of the infection when we got in there, absolutely," said Dr. Eanas Yassa, Section Chief of Vascular Surgery. "Our hope, of course, is that anyone would do these types of operations on would return to their regular lives with only the reminder of of a surgical scar, and some days, some weeks, potentially in the hospital. So I think this was absolutely our hope for him - that he would be able to get back to his life."

Now that a few years have passed since his initial surgery, Munoz continues to wait on the kidney transplant list. His kidney failure stems from his initial medical issues and related surgery.

He does dialysis every other day for three hours and will continue to do so for at least the next few years. The average wait time in Michigan for a kidney transplant is 7 years.

"I'm heavily reliant on on organ donation, not just to keep me alive from the initial surgery. My aorta was taken from a cadaver, so someone had donated that, their tissue for me, which I'm very grateful for," said Munoz. "It has allowed me to live my life and be with my child."

Munoz has become a strong advocate of organ donation and encourages anyone who may be interested in donating a kidney to contact Mercy Health's Kidney Transplant Center at 616-685-6222.

Mercy Health offers a 'Paired Exchange' program that involves two different donors who each don’t have compatible blood types with the person they hope to donate to. The two candidates trade donors, so that each receives a viable kidney.