ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bob Davis had been her boss years ago – a good one, we presume.
Eleven years ago, Yvette Pacheco moved on to a different department but remained in the same U.S. Forest Service office on Broadway as Davis.
“We saw each other from time to time,” she said. “Just as colleagues, just to say hello.”
But in the past couple of years, she had noticed that Davis seemed out of sorts.
He looked weaker. He had lost 50 pounds. He used a cane for balance. And then he started using a walker.
“I knew he was sick,” said Pacheco, a procurement tech. “I didn’t ask why.”
Not then, anyway.
Years of living as a Type II diabetic and having high blood pressure had taken its toll on Davis’ kidneys.
“I was going into complete renal failure,” said Davis, director of Planning, Watershed and Air Management.
Davis was placed on peritoneal dialysis, a near-constant process that filters out the body’s impurities by flushing it with fluid through the abdominal lining. It’s a temporary, imperfect fix to a life-threatening malady that only gets worse with time.
Davis didn’t have much of that.
About 3½ years ago, he was placed on the kidney transplant wait list. The average stay on the list is three to five years.
“And I was at year three,” he said.
Each of his five siblings had been tested as potential donors, and each had been rejected.
Then on May 9 – coincidentally his 66th birthday – Davis got the call that a living donor had been found who was a match.
The donor, he was told, was someone he worked with.
He couldn’t guess which co-worker would so generously give him a major organ without saying a word.
He didn’t guess it was Pacheco.
Organ transplants were something she knew a little about. Her husband, Mark, needed a liver transplant in 2017 after a bout of cancer had ravaged his. Pacheco had been disappointed that she was not a match and unable to give him part of hers.
But someone else could. And someone else did.
For that, she was both grateful and inspired. A woman of faith, she knew that when one door closes another opens. All she needed to do was find that other door.
Davis was that door.
“I knew what it was like seeing my husband go through cancer and being sick and whether every tomorrow was going to be the beginning of a new journey or the end,” Pacheco, 52, said. “I knew someone had helped him with a transplant in his time of need. I knew I could help somebody, too. It just happened to be Bob.”
Pacheco said she began the long process to determine whether she was a match, then whether she was healthy enough to be a donor. That requires batteries of tests and inches of paperwork – and a lot of soul searching.
The only person she told was her husband.
Davis didn’t learn her identity until days before the transplant June 12.
“I didn’t want it to be all about me,” she said about the secrecy. “Like look at me, look at this nice thing I’m doing. I wanted this to be about doing the right thing.”
The right thing in this case is not an easy thing. Transplanting is major surgery, and it took six weeks for Pacheco to recover enough to go back to work – her six-week paid leave a little-known perk for federal employees who are organ donors.
Pacheco still tears up when she talks about the gift of life she gave to a colleague.
“It’s not for everybody, but seeing a person in need is for everybody. Being kind is for everybody,” she said. “This world is already ugly enough.”
As for Davis, he’s the healthiest he’s been in years. And very grateful.
“It was just amazing. She gave me a great kindness,” he said. “I’ll have a piece of her with me for the rest of my life.”
Davis and Pacheco are back to being just colleagues, at least for now – Davis retires in January.
But when they say hello to each other now, they know what a miracle that is.
As we enter the season of thanksgiving and joy, it’s good to be reminded of such miracles.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.