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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Friends Raising Money to Pay for Transplant

September 01, 2000|GAIL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OJAI — Lourdes Carranza, troubled by kidney problems all her life, has already cleared two hurdles on the road to health. She recently learned that her sister can donate a healthy kidney and she found a U.S.-trained doctor willing to do the transplant surgery in a Mexican hospital for a fraction of what it would cost here.

Now friends of the 30-year-old Ojai woman are trying to raise $25,000 to pay for the operation. Carranza has no health insurance and does not qualify for government assistance because she and her husband, Abel, 31, make too much money at their gardening business.

Family friend Jacqueline LeBourveau has stepped in to help them reach their goal.

She knew Lourdes was ill, LeBourveau said, but did not realize how seriously until Abel invited her to the Carranza home for a special Mass said in Lourdes' honor.

LeBourveau, 45, soon set up the Lourdes Carranza Kidney Fund at Ojai Valley Bank and appealed to the community for money. She and friends sought donations from Ojai church congregations and from individuals, arranged for restaurants to donate proceeds from special dinners and held two garage sales.

So far they have raised more than $15,000, including one $5,000 donation from an anonymous couple whom LeBourveau said attend the Carranzas' church, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ojai.

Abel said he is overwhelmed by the support, not just financially, but in comforting words from people who have been through the same experience.

"They're guiding me in a good direction," he said.

But $2,500 has already gone to pay for donor testing and the family still needs at least $12,000 more for the surgery and the monthlong hospital stay, LeBourveau said. And the bill must be paid before the surgery.

Lourdes had become increasingly ill in recent months. If she does not receive a new kidney soon, she will face dialysis or even kidney failure, her husband said.

Last month, after learning that a transplant at UCLA Medical Center would cost $160,000 to $200,000, friends suggested Lourdes consult UCLA-trained kidney specialist Dr. Angel Gandara, who practices in Carranza's native Guadalajara. Gandara performs transplants for low-income patients for about $25,000.

With news that the doctor would accept Lourdes as a patient, Abel sent his wife, two of her sisters and her brother to stay with relatives in Guadalajara while the siblings were tested to see if they could be kidney donors for their sister.

Abel then set about figuring out how to pay for the operation. The couple had just used their scant savings to remodel their Ojai home, but he could take out a loan, he said, or sell the house.

"Whatever it would take to save her," he said.

News this week that Lourdes' sister, Maria, "Concha" Jimenez, 36, of Ojai, was almost a perfect match as a donor brightened the family's spirits. Abel's wife phoned earlier this week to say she felt more confident about her future.

When Lourdes was a toddler in Mexico, a 13-year-old sister died of renal failure, and the Ojai woman has feared that would be her fate as well, Abel said.

"She was hanging by a wire," Abel said. "She was afraid and didn't know if it was going to happen or be too late."

The couple have been married nine years and have a 7-year-old son, Alan. They met in Guadalajara after Abel Carranza's graduation from Ojai's Nordhoff High School in 1987.

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