For Christmas, Bairon Garzon gave his girlfriend his heart — and his kidney, too.
Raquel Gomez, 27, was born with Alport syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause kidney disease. About two years ago, she began to feel sick and run-down.
In September 2014, Gomez began requiring dialysis, connecting herself every night to a machine through a tube in her stomach for 10 hours. Since she had to be plugged into her dialysis machine by 9 p.m. each night, it put a damper on her social life with her boyfriend of six years, Garzon, 29.
The couple from Woodside, Queens, could no longer travel, one of their favorite pastimes. Gomez would be constantly exhausted after the nightly treatment.
The uncertain future didn’t scare Garzon: He proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas Day last year. But they knew the only way to a normal life was a new kidney.
Gomez was already on the donor list, but average wait times for kidneys in New York are five to 10 years, the longest in the nation. Her father also suffers from kidney disease and he’s been on the list for six years so far.
Gomez’s mother and sister both offered to be donors, but their blood types made them ineligible.
Garzon was her knight in a shining hospital gown.
“When you see her every day going through the same experience, dealing with the machine . . . I wanted to get tested,” Garzon said.
He underwent testing in June. By sheer luck, he was a perfect candidate, as his O blood type means he’s a universal donor.
“You’re a match made in heaven,” the nurses told them.
Once the couple realized he could donate, they began planning their wedding for Sept. 3, 2016, in the Hudson Valley.
“We knew I’ll be normal by then, I’ll have a kidney by then!” Gomez said.
The duo underwent surgery on Oct. 1 at Mount Sinai Hospital, lying side by side in beds in the pre-op room and then recovering in adjoining rooms.
‘I tell him every day, he’s my hero’
– Raquel Gomez says of her boyfriend
“It’s quite a love story,” said Dr. Scott Ames, the Mount Sinai transplant surgeon who put Garzon’s kidney into his love’s body.
“I tell him every day, he’s my hero,” Gomez said.
Kidneys from live donors have a much higher chance of success, both immediately and for the long term, Ames said. And improvements in surgical techniques mean live organ donors recover quickly; Garzon is already back playing soccer.
As well as planning a wedding, they talk of future vacations to Cuba. After giving her the gift of health, Garzon will be forgiven if he forgets Christmas this year.
“I’m not giving her any more gifts. That’s it,” he said. “No, I’m only kidding, I don’t look at it like that. I did it to help her get back to her normal life.”