Monday, June 27, 2016

Peyton's 60 Year Old Latino Twin

I have a confession to make.  I am white, inescapably white.  My ancestry reaches back to England and Ireland, some of the whitest, most translucent people to ever walk the face of the Earth, as long it was not during the midday, as we burn easily.  Because of my lineage and Wonder Bread and mayonnaise complexion, you can imagine my shock when I found out that Peyton, my 13 year old son that I lost to suicide in 2014, had a 60 year old Latino twin, David Gonzales. I found this out in November of 2015 when David's daughter Brenda contacted Peyton's mother, Jacki.

I know many of you are befuddled right now, so I guess an explanation is due.  The story begins on October 8, 2014 when Peyton hanged himself at his mother's house in Georgetown, Texas.  Because of the extent and severity of his injuries, he was taken by Lifeflight to Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin.  When we were told that he would not survive his injuries, his mother and I agreed to donate his organs and corneas.  We were told by TOSA (Texas Organ Sharing Alliance) that once Peyton's organs were transplanted, they would send us information about each of the recipients, and we knew that one of his kidneys when to a 58 year old man with two grandchildren, his heart to a 17 year old boy, and part of his liver to an 8 month old baby.  Because of privacy laws, that is all the information we were allowed.  We were able to write letters to the recipients, which I did almost immediately.  I was hoping to hear back from the recipients.

Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and I became convinced that we would never hear anything, until one morning, I received a message on Facebook from a woman named Leslie telling me that her daughter Carmel had been the recipient of one of Peyton's corneas. Even though the transplant didn't take, Leslie told me that Peyton had given them hope, and after a full transplant, Carmel is now able to see with both of her eyes.  I also became hopeful once again, and hoped to hear from more recipients.  A month later, I did.

In October, shortly after the one year anniversary of Peyton's death , I received a call from Peyton's mother.  She told me about an email she received from Brenda Gonzales of Kingsville, Texas telling us about how she believed her father David had been the recipient of one of Peyton's kidneys.  Jacki provided me with the contact information, and I began to correspond with Brenda.  I didn't want to rush things, especially when I found out that David was recovering from back surgery.  In fact, I wasn't sure how to handle the situation, after all, it was the daughter, not the recipient who had initiated contact.  I was fine asking Brenda questions, and knowing that David was ok, and that the kidney was functioning well, was good for me.

Jacki called me to let me know that she was going to meet the Gonzales family in San Antonio on Easter weekend, and I welcome to join them, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to make it there that weekend, but I wanted to meet David, to see Peyton living on, so I began to formulate a plan in my head about how we could make it happen.  My family had talked about taking a weekend vacation to Corpus Christi.  My wife Lisa and I had both been there for work, and thought it would be a great place to take the kids.  There were the beaches, the Texas State Aquarium, and the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Double A affiliate of the Houston Astros, and it is only a 45 minute drive to Kingsville from there.

We chose the weekend of June 10th, and I contacted Brenda and told her we would be close by, and perhaps we could meet up.  She told me that David's birthday was the 12th, and they were planning to come to Corpus to celebrate, and we were welcome to join them.  It sounded like a great idea, so I agreed.  However, I also began to formulate a plan of my own.  Knowing we wwould be attending a Hooks game on the 11th, I asked Brenda if they would be interested in meeting at the game.  When she agreed, I contacted the Hooks to see about getting seats together.  I told them who I was meeting and why, and with the help of Tanner Twomey, a plan was set in motion.

When the 11th rolled around, I was a bit edgy to say the least.  We spent the morning at the Texas State Aquarium, and agreed to meet the Gonzales family at Whataburger Field at 5:35, as soon as the gates opened.  WE had gone back to our hotel to change before the game, and were late getting there.  I picked up our tickets from Will Call and then proceeded to the main gate.  Because this was a Saturday, and a give away night (camouflage Hooks jerseys), the line to get in was long.  I was growing impatient.  I just wanted to get in there and meet David.  We finally got to the front of the line, had our tickets scanned, and entered the stadium.  In front of me was a flight of stairs, and when I looked up and to the left, there was the Gonzales family waiting for me.  I was met at the top of the stairs by Natalia Contreras of the Corpus Christi Caller Times.  I had contacted her about this meeting in hopes that this story would raise awareness of organ donation.  After greeting Natalia, I began to work over to the area where David stood waiting.  I began walking through the crowd until I was able to embrace the man who had a part of Peyton still living inside of him, and  the tears flowed.

After giving an interview to Natalia, I was able to go down to the field as part of the pregame process, and Ian, Peyton's step brother, was able to throw out the first pitch.  But it wasn't until the game started that I got what I wanted most, a chance to talk to David.  I learned that during a routine physical, it was discovered his kidney function was far below normal and they were shutting down, that he had been on dialysis for six and a half years, that during that time he had spent four hours, three days a week having his blood cleaned, and after those six and a half years, he had all but given up hope that he would receive a new kidney As a man that had worked hard all his life, those six and a half years had taken a toll until October 14, 2014.

On that day, David had driven home from San Antonio after visiting his wife Sandra.  When arrived home, Brenda ran out to meet him with the news, a donor had been found, and he needed to get back to San Antonio.  David and Brenda arrived at the hospital and met up with Sandra.  Later that night, the kidney of a 13 year old boy who had taken his life was transplanted into a 58 year old grandfather to save his.  After a successful surgery, David was taken to observation.  After a kidney transplant, they keep the patient in observation until the kidney begins to produce urine.  The usual time for a transplanted kidney to function is four to five hours, for David's new kidney, it took thirty minutes. Doctors told David that the kidney couldn't have been a better match if Peyton had been a family member.  They said that Peyton was his twin when it came to matching, and his recovery was amazing.

I sat there and watched David interact with his family and mine.  I watched his grandsons and his children and prayed to God that they would all grow old and happy together.  Sadly, the night came to an end.  The heat was too much for David.  We said our goodbyes during the 7th inning with another round of tearful hugs.  As the Gonzales' walked away, I looked at the shirts they had made
2 Lives
1 Hero
1 Family
Peyton Andrew James 
June 16, 2001-October 13, 2014

The Gonzales family and the James family were now one family.  We share an unbreakable bond because of Peyton and David, his 60 year old Latino twin.