Connecticut Army National Guard Sgt. Luis Gonzalez Jr., right, poses for a photo with his father, Luis Gonzalez Sr., center, and brother, Giovanni Gonzalez, left, after being promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Connecticut Army National Guard Sgt. Luis Gonzalez Jr., right, poses for a photo with his father, Luis Gonzalez Sr., center, and brother, Giovanni Gonzalez, left, after being promoted to the rank of sergeant. (Courtesy of Sgt. Luis Gonzalez)

(Tribune News Service) — As a Connecticut Army National Guardsman, Sgt. Luis Gonzalez Jr. says he would do anything for his country and his family. Little did he know that his most heroic feat would be on the homefront. That came in August when he donated a kidney to his father.

Since serving with the 1048th Medium Transportation Company out of Enfield after enlisting in 2018, the former Manchester, Conn., resident traveled around the state distributing COVID relief supplies at hospitals, vaccine sites and communities and was activated to protect the state Capitol building against any potential attacks as the riots raged on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Gonzalez, 28, had no idea until about three months ago that he would be the kidney donor for his father, Luis Gonzalez Sr., who struggled with diabetes since he was young and was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2021. 

“My father had three options,” Gonzalez said. “The first was to go on dialysis until a donor was found, the second was to find a living donor and the third was death when his kidneys one day failed.”

The third option was obviously out of the question, Gonzalez said, adding that his father is a bit stubborn and didn’t want to go on dialysis. That’s why he and his four siblings decided to get tested to see if they would be able to donate an organ to help save their father’s life.

It’s fairly uncommon that a family member will be an exact donor match, so Gonzalez was thrilled to learn he was his father’s only child who could donate a kidney.

The process to be cleared as an organ donor through a certification process is fairly lengthy, Gonzalez said. Unexpectedly, his father suffered a mild heart attack on July 3 and was hospitalized. Gonzalez became even more determined when he realized time was of the essence, so he asked medical staff at the hospital to help expedite the certification process. On July 7, he was cleared.

Three weeks later, on Aug. 10, Gonzalez and his father went into adjacent surgery rooms for four-hour and six-hour operations, respectively. Today, Gonzalez Sr. and his namesake are doing extremely well.

“He’s so much better,” Gonzalez said about his father. “He’s energetic and went from 4% kidney function to 80% two days after the surgery.”

Gonzalez said he can see a difference in the way his father moves. “He’s able to do things he wasn’t able to do before and seems like his old self.”

The recovery time for Gonzalez Jr. is about four to six months after the surgery, he said. “I’m still not able to do certain things like lift anything over 10 pounds,” Gonzalez said. “And I have to watch what I eat and drink to keep my sugar levels down because diabetes runs in my family.”

When a kidney is removed, the other has to overcompensate and enlarges a bit to take on the role of the one missing, Gonzalez said. “Two kidneys function at 50% each, so mine won’t ever be at 100%.”

Doctors told him the highest function he can expect is between 80% and 90%, he said.

Gonzalez is slowly but surely recovering and can work out a bit. “I will probably be fully recovered in January and will ease into the workout system I was doing,” he said. As a kidney donor, he will go to the head of a list should there ever be a problem with his one kidney.

“It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time because I’d hate the idea of going before someone who’s been waiting for a long time but it’s good to know there’s backup for me,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez Jr. has been living with his parents in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and returned to work — with some restriction — as a retail sales consultant there for AT&T last month.

Gonzalez also returned to his Army National Guard unit in September. “The physical restrictions have been a bit difficult to adjust to, but my unit has stuck by me the whole time,” he said. “They have been working with me, in conjunction with my doctors, to make sure I have a 100% recovery.”

Gonzalez said he was interested in joining the military when he was in high school but didn’t feel he was ready after graduation. Instead, he went to Eastern Connecticut State University and graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

He’s a motor transport specialist and serves as a team leader. “I am in charge of three soldiers and act as a role model, liaison if they need anything or help.”

And now Gonzalez said he is equipped to assist anyone he knows should they find themselves with family emergencies or problems.

“If anybody has a family member going through something like this, I’ll be there no matter what, even with one less kidney,” he said. “I’ll be there for anyone who needs me.”

(c)2023 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.

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