By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BA & ’03 MBA
Amanda Gaytan believes her scars are an important part of who she is today.
At just 20, she has been through more medical tribulations than most people endure their entire lives. Yet, the UIW junior has already made her mark in the world in more ways than one. Gaytan was just 14 years old and an avid athlete (basketball, volleyball, soccer, cross-country and track) when she began to notice unusual swelling in her ankles.
“Sometimes they were swollen and sometimes they weren’t. I just thought I was allergic to something affecting my ankles. I never had any pains, never was sick, I just had swollen ankles,” she recalled.
One Saturday morning, her mother decided the swelling was particularly severe and decided to seek medical help right away. Gaytan’s pediatrician did a simple urine test. The results were alarming.
“My doctor was really worried, so we were sent immediately to the emergency room. My blood pressure was sky high, my levels were completely off…my body was just a disaster,” she said. “I got admitted into the hospital where they did more tests and we all waited to get the results.”
With her entire family by her side, she learned the diagnosis: stage four kidney failure.
“”My mom broke down in tears and I just had a blank stare on my face,” Gaytan remembered. “I was diagnosed December 8, 2007, a few weeks shy of my 15th birthday. Two days after my diagnosis, I went into surgery to have my peritoneal catheter put in my lower abdomen. I began dialysis immediately and stayed in the hospital for about a week.”
Although her dialysis treatments were administered in the comfort of her own home, they lasted eight hours and she endured them every night for almost two years. She received her medical treatments at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio until a kidney donor was found. As it turned out, her own mother would give her life once again this time by donating one of her kidneys on June 17, 2009.
“I give all my thanks to my mom who gave me a second chance at life. Before my transplant, I would feel very weak and tired all the time, even giving up sports because I couldn’t handle it. After my transplant, I feel amazing,” she marveled. “I’m always up and doing things, going to school, working, and even picking up sports again.”
The San Antonio native was one of seven chosen by Texas Children’s Hospital to represent the hospital and Team USA at the 19th World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa. The Games take place every two years, bringing awareness to the need of organ donation, as well as to demonstrate the physical success rate of transplant surgery.
Gaytan found out about the opportunity to represent San Antonio in March of this year and was thrilled at the prospect of getting back into sports.
“I talked with people from around the world who had a transplant and we connected,” she said, adding that her most memorable moment uring the games this summer was winning a bronze medal in both the 200 and 400-meter races.
“When I stood on the stage, an American flag wrapped around me and was awarded my bronze medal…I will never forget that for the rest of my life!”
The computer graphics arts major, with minors in art and marketing, has already received nationwide recognition for her design work. One of her designs was chosen by the Sharpie brand for a television commercial. One day, she hopes to work for Pixar or Sony.
Meanwhile, facing her mortality at such a young age has made her realize a few life lessons.
“Scars are what made me…without these scars I wouldn’t be here,” said Gaytan.
“When I was first diagnosed back in 2007, I was near death,” she explained. “I had about a week to live because that’s how bad my body was. I could have had a stroke, a heart attack or even died because my body was loaded with poisonous toxins. For a year and a half I was being kept alive by a machine and now looking at my transplant scar, that’s what truly makes me. Having this scar shows how much I’ve been through, the obstacles I overcame and my second chance at life.”
Gaytan added she refuses to let the gold medal elude her.
“I plan to attend the United States Transplant Games in the summer of 2014 in Houston and the World Transplant Games 2015 in Argentina. Going to these games has made me realize how much I missed sports and I want to continue with running. Hopefully, my training will lead to a gold medal one day.”