Newly Accepted Drexel Student Talks Organ Donation and Saving Lives
“ I knew it.”
These were the first words that popped into Maria Gonzalez’s head upon learning she was a match for her nephew’s kidney donation.
Her voice filling with emotion and pride as she discusses the experience and her nephew’s subsequent recovery, the 45-year-old mother of three looks towards the future. While saving her nephews life, Gonzalez lost a kidney but gained motivation to keep pushing for more.
After working as a communications dispatcher for the Philadelphia Police Department for 17 years, Gonzalez readies herself to turn the page on another chapter. She'll be joining Drexel University’s online B.S. in Computing and Security Technology program this winter.
“There’s something in the back of my mind telling me ‘don’t be afraid to go on and start something new,’” she said.
In 2012, Gonzalez and her family were desperately searching for help for her college-aged nephew. While fighting a battle with FSGS, his kidneys stopped functioning properly. Other family members were coming up as non-matches.
Gonzalez got tested and sure enough, it was a match. But her doctor was concerned that she wasn’t quite healthy enough to go through with such an extensive procedure; she knew she had to make a change quickly.
“At that point, I felt like it wasn’t even really my kidney anymore; it was his,” she said.
Gonzalez signed up to be part of “The Battle of the Badges,” an annual weight loss competition between the Philadelphia police and fire departments. During the contest—which lasted for 13 weeks—she lost a total of 72 pounds, and as the biggest loser, won the competition for her department. She also won her health and on November 19, 2012, donated her kidney to her ailing nephew.
The operation proved successful and with her nephew thriving, Gonzalez is ready to tackle the next challenge.
As a communications dispatcher, Gonzalez spends all day facing high-pressure situations as the first point of contact for distressed citizens.
“I think sometimes when you’ve been doing this for a long time, you can become desensitized. Not only will this degree will help me make technology improvements behind the scenes, but it will also allow me to communicate more effectively and make the process smoother,” she said.
After everything they’ve been through, Gonzalez’s family is thrilled to see her take on this new opportunity.
“My kids are very proud. They’re very happy I’m going back to school,” she said. “My 13-year-old even offered to help me with math!”
On the brink of a new day, Gonzalez verbalizes feelings common to those facing change: “I’m nervous and a little scared, but I’m think I’m ready.”