Victoria man raises awareness of kidney problems (w/ video)

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

July 13, 2014 at 2:13 a.m.
Updated July 14, 2014 at 2:14 a.m.

Arnold Davis, left, and his sister-in-law, Leticia Sanchez-de los Santos, will be going into surgery together later this month when she donates one of her kidneys to Davis. Although she is not biologically related to her sister's husband, Sanchez-de los Santos still got tested and is a good match for the donation.

Arnold Davis, left, and his sister-in-law, Leticia Sanchez-de los Santos, will be going into surgery together later this month when she donates one of her kidneys to Davis. Although she is not biologically related to her sister's husband, Sanchez-de los Santos still got tested and is a good match for the donation.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

When Arnold Davis' kidney functions dropped to 15 percent last April, he thought, "How am I - a man who looks perfectly healthy - going to ask someone for help?"

The struggle wasn't about just looking healthy for Davis but also about his mentality of always being a hard worker - a provider for his wife and three children. He feared his kidney disease would take that all from him.

"You're the male; you're the head; you're the guy who always helps people, and then all of a sudden, you're the one that needs help," Davis said. "It's been one of the most difficult things for me to take on that type of mentality, but I don't really have a choice."

Davis, 55, of Victoria, began to feel odd last year. He was tired all of the time, and naps became a part of his daily routine. Although he'd been monitoring his kidneys for years, finding out he was in failure was a shock.

He needed a new kidney.

Kidney disease, a silent and underestimated killer that affects one in nine adults in the United States, often goes undetected because symptoms don't arise until the kidney is near failure, said Dr. Faisal Khan, Davis's doctor and founding partner at Victoria Nephrology Associates LLC.

Khan said he and his partner created their clinic four years ago to bring awareness and better kidney care to the Crossroads.

With more than 100,000 people awaiting a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation, doctors suggested Davis begin dialysis treatment.

Dialysis is a treatment that mimics what a healthy kidney would do: Remove waste, salt and extra water from building up in the body and maintain safe levels of certain chemicals in the blood such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate.

When the kidney is near a failing rate, about 15 percent, symptoms such as nausea, weakness, having a metallic taste in the mouth and uremic breath are present. However, the kidney is considered diseased when its function drops below 60 percent, Khan said.

A kidney transplant is preferred over dialysis, Khan said, but dialysis is not as uncomfortable for patients as it was years ago. Many, however, need to go on dialysis because of the wait for a transplant, which is between seven and nine years, he said.

Davis lost his mother to kidney failure last year. He saw her become debilitated by dialysis and said he wasn't ready for a lifestyle change. Because of that, dialysis was not an option for him - at least during the year his doctor gave him to survive without beginning treatment.

"Mentally, I wasn't ready to check out," he said. "I had to find a kidney."

Out of seven living brothers and sisters, not a one was a viable match for Davis.

Because of their family history of diabetes and the high probability of one day developing kidney disease, his entire family was unable to donate. His older sister, Lucy Medrano, 58, described it as a feeling of hopelessness.

"We wanted to help him in every way we could," Medrano said. "But it couldn't be with a kidney."

Medrano knew social media was a viable tool to quickly raise awareness and garner support from the community, so she took to Facebook to tell her brother's story.

People began to call and donate to Davis' fundraiser account, but there were still no matches.

On Easter Sunday, a family from Corpus Christi who had heard about Davis through his daughter on social media had a family member pass away who was a match. Davis raced to the hospital, but unfortunately, the kidney he was about to receive was scarred.

Surgery was canceled.

After a final failed attempt by one of Davis' daughters to donate a kidney, Davis' sister-in-law, Leticia Sanchez-de los Santos, got tested.

"There wasn't even a question about it," Sanchez-de los Santos said. "I didn't think I'd be a match, but I hoped."

After initial blood work, Sanchez-de los Santos learned she was a match and continued to be a viable option for the man she considers to be a brother.

"I'm not really scared," she said. "As weird as it sounds, I've been excited. I lost my dad when I was 14, and now, I have the chance to give my nieces and nephews a chance to have more time with their father."

The sentiment brought Davis to tears during an interview, partially because of how much he misses his own mother and partially because of how brave his sister-in-law is, he said.

During the testing phase, Davis said, he "was trying so hard not to get his hopes crushed," waiting to find out if Sanchez-de los Santos was a true match. The two will undergo surgery next week.

"I'm so blessed she was there for me," he said.

After a kidney donation, people do well and have minimal risks, Khan said.

"You can live a healthy life on one kidney," he said.

While Sanchez-de los Santos, a mother of four, has only a couple days of recovery time to look forward to, Davis will be out of work several months and continue to take medicine the rest of his life to ensure his new kidney stays healthy. Davis has worked as the cafeteria manager at Invista for the past three years. He also has served as director of the Victoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He developed kidney disease from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Without the help of his doctor, Davis said, he would not have been so understanding about his illness and the prospect for a future healthy life.

"When it's all said and done, I want to help make people understand kidney disease," Davis said. "I want my story to give people hope.

"For me, knowing what the problem was and knowing how to fix it, that's made a big difference in my life - I want to share that."



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