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Father's Day: Daughters admire father's optimism despite health battle

June 18, 2011 at 1:18 a.m.

Johnny G. DeLeon, 65, laughs as his daughter Vicky Zarate talks about their childhood memories at his home Friday. Zarate is one of four daughters who help take care of him. DeLeon is dying of end stage renal failure, has dialysis three times a week and had both of his legs amputated. Despite the many challenges, his daughters talked about his positive attitude and humor. "One time when he had to go in an ambulance, he asked the paramedics if they were hiring." Zarate said while laughing.

Johnny G. DeLeon calls himself half a man, but to his four daughters, that is clearly not the case.

Reclining on a hospital bed in the corner of his Victoria apartment's living room, DeLeon watches muted scenes of daytime television flash across the TV.

The 65-year-old is in hospice care.

DeLeon is missing both of his legs and a pinky. Not to mention he is in end-stage renal failure.

"I don't give up," DeLeon said, a smile beaming strong against his weak face.

Because of his positive attitude and dedication to his family, his daughter Vicky Zarate nominated him for the Advocate's Top Dad honor.

"God is taking him piece-by-piece," Zarate added.

Zarate, 43, and her three sisters, Martha Resendez, 36; JoAnn DeLeon, 41 and Barbara Gonzales, 46, agree: DeLeon is the world's greatest Dad.

DeLeon even sports a "World's Greatest Dad" T-shirt as proof of the undying love the girls have for him.

Zarate said she most admires her father's ability to never stop smiling and making humor of what, to most, would be depressing.

"He lives life to the fullest," she said.

DeLeon was a paramedic for several years, and that was something Zarate always looked up to.

However, Zarate's father advised her to go into nursing, and she did.

Her father's appreciation of life despite his health condition makes Zarate smile, but watching him slowly wither away is difficult.

Funeral arrangements have already been made because of the many times DeLeon has been on the brink of death.

Several times he has been unresponsive, including once after an intense dialysis treatment, which he undergoes three times a week.

High blood pressure and diabetes also attacked DeLeon's body.

"It's been an ongoing journey with him," Zarate said. "He's like a cat with nine lives."

DeLeon gives thanks to the good Lord, his four daughters and to his wife for always pushing through.

But this year, his wife is recovering from back surgery in Corpus Christi, so the plan is to spend Father's Day in her hospital bedroom.

This also may be DeLeon's last Father's Day. The entire family has tried to accept this, but shies away from talking about.

"I'm ready," DeLeon said about death, his voice calm. "Nobody knows how much I've been suffering."

"It's hard to hear him say that," Zarate responded.

"Well, when you got to go, you got to go," DeLeon said, sparking Zarate and Resendez to laugh.

His daughters do as much as they can to spend as much time with him in what could be his last days.

Each daughter takes a shift when they are off work.

Taking a shift isn't always about tending to his medical needs. The girls make sure to take their father out and about.

His favorite place is La Palmera Mall in Corpus Christi.

Resendez, DeLeon's youngest daughter, relaxes on a couch. She's on shift now.

"He took care of us. Now it's our turn to take care of him," she said.

Though his girls are grown, he still remembers the days of jumping rope and playing with his little girls.

DeLeon does not know when his time will come, but he plans to keep fighting - and laughing.

"There ain't much I can do," he said. "I'll just get on the wheelchair and roll with it."



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