Organ donation saves Farmington man from COVID-19

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What started as a COVID-19 diagnosis in 2021 quickly turned into a Farmington family’s worst nightmare.

“There were multiple times that they told us, there’s nothing else we can do,” said Anita Graciano.

Anita’s husband, Jose, was clinging to life in a Colorado hospital for months, until a miracle came in the form of a new pair of lungs.

“When Jose got lungs, I felt like I got lungs,” Anita said. “Like I finally was able to breathe again.”

Jose and Anita now share that feeling with a million others who have been given a second chance at life through organ donation. Transplant surgeries have come a long way in recent years.

“The first kidney transplant that was done in the world was done in 1954 in the New England area,” said Dr. Gregory Larrieux, a transplant surgeon at Presbyterian Hospital. “So we’ve been doing kidney transplants since, and if you look at today being the millionth organ transplant in this country – about half of that took place within the past 15-20 years.”

Doctors said they’ve been able to shorten surgery times and improve outcomes.

“Our donors are able to live longer with the organs,” Larrieux said.

Yet there are still so many people who need life-saving transplants and may never get one. More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list nationwide, including 644 New Mexicans, according to New Mexico Donor Services.

“Ultimately, we’re gonna continue to grow and provide more organs to the families that are waiting for them,” Larrieux said.

Anita said that if Jose wouldn’t have made it, his family was planning to donate his other working organs.

“We would have been blessed either way if he would have been the one giving the organs at the time, and us meeting that family at some point or families, whoever we would have helped, but now we’re on the other side of it, where we actually received somebody’s organ and we’re forever grateful,” Anita said. “Now he has, he can see his grandbabies grow up, and that’s so important.”