Lent Devotion – The Miracle

Published March 19, 2024 by Johnny Villaseñor

The biggest road I have had to follow was when I received my diagnosis of kidney failure in 2016. 

After hearing those words, I began to focus first on what was needed to protect my family. I wanted to make sure they would be taken care of and make sure that everything would be okay. 

After we received the diagnosis, Melinda and I began to make arrangements with a different timeline laid out before us. As soon as we left the hospital we were able to get started on all the things we needed to do and talked to the girls about what was going on. The hardest thing for me to process (there were many) was that I may not be able to see my girls get married, have kids of their own, and not be by my wife’s side… that was the toughest of all. 

My medical journey began with dialysis treatments three times a week. I grinned and bore this schedule as best I could. Dialysis was truly a necessary evil, yet as time went on, I knew that I still needed to do more to ensure I would be eligible for the transplant list. As my health began declining, I had to have difficult conversations with my kids and my wife. 

As time went on… I sat through every dialysis treatment and went to my scheduled appointments with the doctors. I was in and out of the hospital as complications came up from receiving regular dialysis treatments. My body was wearing out. And time went on… I would go to doctor’s visits (these were typically grim meetings). But I knew what I was facing already. I did eventually get voted on to the transplant list and continued wondering… when?

By March 2020, the world was at the height of COVID-19. I was at St. Luke’s Hospital for my annual routine visits to ensure that things were progressing as they should. I was there for a heart cath, and my cardiologist said I needed to have a few stents put in. On that same day, we decided to go forward with a double bypass surgery. I had enough time to call Melinda to let her know, but she wasn’t able to visit—no one was—because of COVID. The surgery was successful, and I felt a whole lot better. After I got out of the hospital, I got back to work.

My boss was great throughout this whole process, and my coworkers took extra care to make sure I had the support I needed. 

Then one day in June, Melinda and I got a call from Rachel Graves. She called to share with us that she was moving through the process of evaluating her ability to be a potential donor. This is a young woman who I saw grow up alongside my youngest daughter from pretty much cradle roll. It was the finest thing that has ever happened to me when we found out that she was a perfect match. 

All that was left was scheduling our surgeries. Many factors were taken into account, and it was verified that Rachel was a perfect match. I remember going to the hospital that morning with my wife as far as the surgical center, which is as far as she was allowed to go. 

After the surgery, I pretty much went blank. Melinda says when I woke up, the first thing I asked was, “How is Rachel?” She knew Rachel was fine, which was a relief, and I went back to sleep. 

That experience kind of changed my perspective on the road I had been on so far. The things we had talked about before, planned for, prepared for... you think about things differently when you know you are going to live. In 2020, I had two major surgeries, and I’m still here. 

I remember the post kidney surgery appointment that freaked us out the most was with my new cardiologist. His assistant took all the entry information in; he had a giant file in his hand. The cardiologist entered the room with an incredibly solemn look on his face, and Melinda and I shared a look. Then he finally asked, “So in March of 2020 you had a double bypass… and then in November you had a kidney transplant?” And he looked straight at me and said… “You should be dead. No one survives those two major surgeries like that. It is rare. You are a walking, talking miracle of this medical center.” And I told him,” I may not be the miracle, but I know who was.”

Now as we approach my fourth year with a life-giving kidney, Rachel and Zach have welcomed a son, Owen, to their family. Melinda and I were able to help dedicate him at South Main. My older daughter got married, and I’m so grateful to have been here to be a part of that. None of this would be possible if Rachel hadn’t made a sacrifice for me.