At Just 21 Years Old, Melissa De Los Rios’ Life Was Nearly Cut Short

April 14, 2023

Melissa De Los RiosShe had just gotten married, so when she began to feel nauseous, De Los Rios suspected she might be pregnant. The reality, however, was not that joyful. Following a visit to her doctor and a series of tests, the then-newlywed discovered she was experiencing kidney failure.

That was just the beginning of a more than 20-year journey during which De Los Rios has undergone three kidney transplants.

The Start of a Lifetime of Treatment

Initially, she began dialysis treatment at South Texas Health System McAllen, then known as McAllen Medical Center. Dialysis is a treatment to replace the work of the kidneys if they fail. Hemodialysis uses a machine to filter the blood to rid it of harmful wastes. When healthy, your kidneys clean your blood and make hormones that keep your bones strong. In hemodialysis, a machine and a filter called an artificial kidney (or dialyzer) clean the blood.

About four years later, De Los Rios had her first kidney transplant at Memorial-Hermann Hospital in Houston. The donor was a 2-year-old boy and, although she was happy to have received the gift of life, she struggled with feelings of guilt that it came at the cost of someone so young. But the transplant did allow her to live more fully again. Though everything was not 100%, the young wife was doing well and was able to start working. Unfortunately, her new job came at a cost. She believes she caught an infection when a co-worker came to work sick. The infection eventually caused her new kidney to fail just six years after she received it.

De Los Rios had to restart dialysis.

That was followed several years later by a second transplant, at the University of Austin in San Antonio. The second kidney (this one from a 32-year-old man) worked well initially, but, as the years went on, it also began to fail.  Strangely, the man who received the other kidney in the pair was also from the Rio Grande Valley and he and De Los Rios found that the kidneys’ health seemed somehow in rhythm with each other.

“I could be doing really great and he would get sick and then, all of a sudden, my kidney would start bothering me,” she says. When he lost his kidney, hers started to decline. Her doctor warned her that she could again lose her kidney, and she eventually did. In June 2016, about eight years after the second transplant, De Los Rios received a third kidney transplant at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, this time from a 61-year-old woman.

Thankful for a Normal Life

De Los Rios is confident that her health is good now. Throughout her complex journey, she came to rely upon South Texas Health System McAllen for dialysis services to do the work of her kidneys when they couldn’t.

The three-time transplant recipient is now dedicated to giving back. She volunteers at her local library and with the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance to stay connected to others and feel alive, she says. The kidney transplant also allowed her to give the gift of life. She gave birth to a daughter in 1996, the year after her first transplant. Her daughter is now 26.

“It’s not an easy task, but I push myself constantly because I want to be normal,” De Los Rios says. “I stopped living the life that I expected at 20. I’m 55 years old and I still have a lot to give, at least that’s how I see it.”