If you could save a friend’s life, would you? What would you sacrifice to help that person? Would you give up blood, bone marrow, maybe even a kidney?
One may make these sacrifices for a family member, but what about a friend? Family is sometimes considered a restrictive term, referring to a person’s blood relative. For longtime Spring Creek Towers’ resident, Marisol Crespo the concept of family goes beyond the science of shared genes. It describes someone that she has been friends with for years, a person she loves and trusts. That is how Crespo feels about her best friend, Chave Vazquez.
Crespo and Vazquez have been close friends for over 18 years, both working as hairstylists at “She Goes To Your Head” Salon in Astoria, Queens. She always considered Vazquez her sister, the only thing separating them was blood. But perhaps that is no longer the case. A few years ago, Vazquez’s daughter, Charlene Guzman was diagnosed with a disease called scleroderma, a rare and incurable auto-immune disorder that causes tightening of the skin, muscles and joint pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education, the disease affects mostly women. In addition, there are fewer than 200,000 cases in the United States per year.
“I saw my friend’s daughter suffering, her health just kept going downhill,” said Crespo. Guzman’s blood pressure rose to a point where doctors warned her that she may either suffer heart or kidney failure. At 21 years old, Guzman indeed suffered kidney failure. For years, Crespo witnessed her “niece” suffer through continuous dialysis visits. “I thought that there were several of [Guzman’s] family members that would be able to donate, but there was only a cousin who was very young. I decided that I would get tested to see if I was a match,” Crespo said.
Crespo never had a predisposition to becoming an organ donor. However, she has always been an advocate for those suffering from diseases, such as cancer and AIDS. Walking several marathons and participating in charities, Crespo is someone who truly cares about humanity. She doesn’t look at someone and see what they can do for her. No, it is vice versa. When she offers a helping hand, it’s because she cares. Crespo’s ability to empathize led her to a life changing decision in August—she decided to donate her kidney to Guzman.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, “Many people who need transplants of organs and tissues cannot get them because of a shortage of donations. Of the 123,000 Americans currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, more than 101,000 need a kidney, but only 17,000 people receive one each year.” In fact, the donor advocacy site states that every day 12 people die waiting for a kidney.
Crespo’s life-saving gift was considered a living donation. The match was determined by a common Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) marker. This protein (marker) found in the body’s cells helps to identify if a successful transplant is possible. Close family members are usually asked to be tested because they are more likely to be a match. For example, there is a 1 in 4 chance (25%) that a brother or sister (with the same parents) will be a match. Guzman was one of the lucky few who found a living kidney match because it lasts twice as long as kidneys transplanted from deceased donors, according to the National Kidney Registry.
Another donating factor is age and health. Fifty-four-year-old Crespo has always been the picture of health. She exercises every week at the Brooklyn Sports Club, eats healthy and has, what she considers, “a lot of excess energy.” She was ready to lend her “niece” a helping hand. The surgery took place on August 25th at the New York-Presbyterian hospital, now both Crespo and Guzman are happy and healthy.
After a few months of taking it easy, Crespo is back at the Brooklyn Sports Club participating in her favorite exercise class— cycling. This experience has reinforced Crespo’s humanitarian demeanor and inspired her to become an organ and blood donor advocate. According to the National Kidney Registry, “Donating a kidney is a major surgery, but has not been shown to reduce the donor’s life expectancy. Interestingly, people who have donated a kidney outlive the average person.”
“Educate yourself about being a donor. There is nothing to fear as long as you are healthy. There is no feeling as fulfilling, or as rewarding, than helping someone in need,” Crespo said. “I didn’t care about losing a kidney, I feared about losing a friend, my “niece.” I felt so happy and positive afterwards.”
Some may say that people are family because of their blood relations. Crespo and Guzman now share that bond in ways that other families could never understand.