In the middle of a pandemic, when many panicked, hoarded and decided to care for their own irrespective of what happened to others, one of our Health Services staff members reached out to a fellow co-worker and saved his life.
Without a doubt, Health Services staff were heroes long before the pandemic. Going above and beyond for the patients and communities we serve is what sets us apart time and time again. Still, this particular selfless act is beyond heroic – it is a remarkable reminder that we indeed belong to each other.
In April 2021, during National Donate Life month, Julia Mockeridge, a Physical Therapist at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center (Rancho) donated her kidney to her coworker Joey Acuña, a Physical Therapy Technician. Julia has worked with inpatients at Rancho since 2014, most recently in the Covid-19 Recovery Unit. Joey has been with Rancho since 2012 working in the outpatient Physical Therapy unit.
Their remarkable story of kindness and generosity had an unusual beginning. Julia and Joey were cordial coworkers, but not necessarily friends. No one really knew about Joey’s health struggles because he deliberately decided to show up and do his work to the best of his ability – even in the face of an unprecedented pandemic. On Instagram, among the photos of his family, he sometimes posted images of his struggles to stay alive. He often endured at home dialysis that would take him away from his family for up to 10 hours at a time.
Last year, as Joey’s health declined, he sent a desperate and heartfelt request to his friends and family via Instagram in September of 2020, seeking a donor willing to change a life. He had been hesitant to ask for help in this venue, but with his kidney failure getting worse by the day, the father of five young children was running out of options. He waited hopefully for responses from friends and family, but they were unable to help for various reasons. And even as he waited, he knew it would be nearly impossible to find a willing organ donor in the middle of a pandemic when fear and uncertainty were everywhere.
But leave it up to a Health Services workforce member to make the impossible … possible. Julia saw a photo of him in treatment and replied with, “how can I help?”
Those four words led to a months long process, where Julia registered as a prospective organ donor and underwent a series of medical tests to assess her suitability to become an organ donor. It is highly unlikely to be a match for someone who is not a blood relative. And yet in what could only be described as a blessing from the universe determined to beat the odds, in March of 2021 Julia was confirmed as a match for Joey. A month later, on April 21, 2021 – they underwent the surgeries that would extend Joey’s life and change Julia’s life.
When asked why she did it, Julia noted that 20 years earlier one of her aunts donated a kidney to another aunt and both had gone on to live healthy lives, marrying, having children and running marathons. She understood the health risks associated with the surgery and possible risks after, but she decided to go through with it for many reasons including knowing that Joey’s wife and five young children deserved to have him in their lives.
Today, as they both continue to recover, Joey describes Julia as an “angel”. Both of their families have met via zoom amidst tears and infinite gratitude. They both express astonishment and gratitude for life bringing them to the Rancho family where their commitment to helping others connected them in an unexpected, life-changing way.
Many thanks to Julia and Joey for sharing this story of generosity, kindness and courage. Their story exemplifies the very spirit of what it means to care, to heal and to give.