Harlingen man finds kidney donor at Walmart

From left, Cynthia De La Rosa, Joe Cortez and Eva Lopez. A chance meeting at Walmart led to Lopez donating a kidney to Cortez, who had been waiting for a kidney for six years. (Courtesy photo)

HARLINGEN — “My husband needs a kidney.”

The words on a woman’s T-shirt grabbed Eva Lopez’s attention and wouldn’t let go. She was drawn to the woman like a magnet.

“Hello?” she said to Cynthia De La Rosa. “Are you looking for a kidney donor for your husband?”

From that singular meeting at Walmart, a series of events led to Lopez donating a kidney to De La Rosa’s husband, Joe Cortez, all from Harlingen. The surgery took place earlier this week in San Antonio.

It all began with a chance turn down the shampoo aisle. Lopez didn’t need anything in that aisle, but something told her she needed to be there.

She immediately found what she is always looking for: an opportunity to help.

“The way I was raised, my mother always taught us to be charitable,” said Lopez, 36. “I see, ‘so and so needs a kidney.’”

She began speaking with De La Rosa, thinking she could just post something on Facebook to see if her friends would step up. Then Cortez, 45, approached them.

“I asked, ‘Well, what’s your blood type,’ and he said, ‘O positive’ and I’m O positive,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Woe, I can probably be a donor.’ It just spilled out of my mouth. I said I’ll do this.”

Her daughter Kaitlyn, 15, knew she was a helpful person. She’s accustomed to her mother handing people umbrellas in the rain and pulling over to help lost pets. However, this offer to donate an organ had just taken it to another level.

“Mom, you’re giving up an organ? You don’t even know him,” she told her mother.

“I know, baby, but who knows?” Lopez told her. “If somebody could help me if I needed it, wouldn’t you want that?”

Her daughter cried then, saying, “But I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Cortez, who had been waiting for a kidney for six years, was skeptical. He’d heard all this before.

“I didn’t really get excited because I’ve had other people say, ‘I’m going to donate you a kidney and they go halfway through the testing and then they drop out and they don’t do nothing,” said Cortez. “So it was like, ‘Ah, if she goes, she goes.’ And now she surprised me, she went through all the blood testing, the doctor visits, everything. Then I started getting excited.”

Lopez wasted no time taking action, De La Rosa said with admiration.

“She asked me, ‘Do you have the number to the San Antonio doctor or hospital?’” De La Rosa said. “And she goes, ‘OK, I’ll call the hospital tomorrow and I’ll get information.’ And right away, she called the next day and they gave her information and started working on everything she needed to do for that.”

The excitement was clear in Cortez’s voice. Dialysis several times a week kept him too tired to practice his trade as a mechanic and welder. He’s looking forward to returning to work and more.

“I’m hoping to start a project on a car if my wife lets me,” he said with a laugh. “I’m hoping to get an old Camino or Camaro and start restoring it. I haven’t done it lately because I haven’t had the strength to do it.”

A good turn will command a price. Lopez will have a recovery period of between four to six weeks.

“It just depends how well I heal,” she said. “And I should be on medication for about two weeks for pain. For Joe it will be a little bit longer. And then we have our follow-ups.”

By the way everyone spoke, it seemed these three have become good friends.

They have.