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Josie's Joy brings gift of awareness (w/video)

By JR Ortega
Dec. 2, 2013 at 6:02 a.m.
Updated Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:03 a.m.

Irma Vasquez and her sisters were moved by their mother's fight with kidney failure and the long hours of dialysis she needed every morning beginning at 3 a.m. With a tear in her eye, Vasquez said, "Last year was really tough. I didn't know if I could  go through that. I just felt her touch my arm and telling me, 'You need to keep doing this. I may not be there, but there are people who need it.'"

The gift Irma Vasquez wants to give this year can't fit under a tree.

Rather, it is free, and every person gets one - it's the gift of awareness.

Vasquez, 40, is sharing that gift with the Crossroads this year through her organization, Josie's Joy, a nonprofit with the goal of making people understand renal failure.

Josie's Joy is having its first fundraiser at 9 a.m. Dec. 7 in Riverside Park with a Winter Run-derland 5K and Kids 1-mile Jingle Bell Walk.

Josie's Joy formed out of sadness - Vasquez's mother died of renal failure.

"She looked like a scared child," Vasquez said, tears in her eyes, as she remembered her mother's face the first time she was going to undergo dialysis in 2008.

After a two-year battle with kidney failure, Vasquez' mother, Josefina Valdez, 67, died in December 2012.

But her diagnosis and death are not the reason why the organization started - it's everything in between, Vasquez said.

In that first year of dialysis, Vasquez would go to her mother's house out by Saxet Lakes at 3 a.m. to pick her up for her 4 a.m. dialysis treatment at DaVita.

The trips to cleanse her blood went from being long, draining treatments to family affairs.

Vasquez's children would wake up early in the morning to be sure to be there for Momo, or their grandmother.

They passed the time with Grandma, making sure she felt comfortable during the process. That first December in 2008, Vasquez and her family made Christmas gift baskets for Valdez and surprised her at dialysis.

Valdez, being one who did not enjoy the limelight, was upset but not for the reason of embarrassment that Vasquez thought.

"Next time you do something like that, you be sure to do it for everyone," her mother told her, "not just me."

That's when the idea for Josie's Joy started.

In the next three years, the family made an effort to put money aside and gather kidney-healthy foods to deliver to those on dialysis.

Kidney disease kills more than 90,000 Americans every year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Valdez is now part of that 90,000.

After her death, Vasquez had a hard time going back to the dialysis center to deliver the baskets, but she did it.

Vasquez's daughter, Emie, 10, cried as she listened to her mother share stories of her grandmother.

Vasquez's house smells of pecan and pumpkin pie, a skill she learned from her mother, who was head baker at Halepaska's for several years.

All the memories make Emie not only sad but also happy.

"She would always care for us," Emie said. "She was literally there with us everywhere we went."

This year, Vasquez went to Emie's school at Chandler Elementary to drop off barrels so students and staff could help donate kidney-healthy foods.

She's still setting up other locations in preparation for their delivery later this month, she said.

And while the pain of the first anniversary of her mother's death creeps closer, the idea of continuing to help others gives her solace.

"I just felt Mom touch me," she said, crying. "I felt her tell me, 'You have to do this. You have to keep going.'"



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