Robertson coach copes with dialysis as he awaits kidney-pancreas transplant
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Leroy Gonzalez traded 10 hours of solitude for four hours of company.
When Gonzalez enters Fresenius Kidney Care Dialysis Center, he’s greeted by nurses and patients who all call him “Coach” and ask him how the Las Vegas Robertson football team looks. The head coach of the Cardinals sits in a recliner and prepares himself for the three-hour, 45-minute dialysis process that he has undertaken three times a week for the past six months.
Gonzalez was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 17 years old and had a kidney transplant in the summer of 2011. He had waited since 2007 for the right donor to be found. Previously, he had a nightly 10-hour peritoneal dialysis process at home.
However, his doctor told Gonzalez that his transplanted kidney was damaged after he received it.
“They told me it wouldn’t last very long, because they didn’t know what was wrong with it,” Gonzalez said. “The doctors did all they could to keep it going for as long as they could.”
The kidney lasted almost seven years before Gonzalez, 46, had to start dialysis treatments again in March.
His companions for the duration of his dialysis stays are a red blanket to keep him warm and a tablet that helps him keep up to date with his favorite baseball team, the Houston Astros, and watch game film.
On this day, he studied images of the Ruidoso Warriors, Robertson’s next opponent, and relived the nightmarish fortunes of his team against the Santa Rosa Lions the previous night, a 35-0 loss on Sept. 7.
Gonzalez enjoys the company he keeps at the dialysis center, which beats the long nights he spent in bed hooked up to a gray machine that filtered his blood. Elaine Gonzalez, Leroy’s wife of 23 years, said it was hard to get a good night’s sleep with the beeping the machine made.
“It was filtering through everything, so every two hours it would beep,” Elaine Gonzalez said. “It kinda felt like you were in the hospital.”
Double transplant planned
The decision to perform dialysis at Fresenius versus home wasn’t for comfort — Leroy Gonzalez opted for a different procedure that could be helpful in maintaining the health of his next kidney as well as managing his diabetes. He chose to perform a simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant, which would eliminate the need for insulin injections as well as give the coach a healthy kidney.
Leroy Gonzalez said the waiting list for a kidney transplant was longer than the kidney-pancreas list, and the choice was obvious.
“They told me, if I got on
dialysis, it would take me about six months,” Leroy Gonzalez said, adding that he is on call for when the organs become available. When that call comes, he has four hours to get to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque for the operation.
Preparing for surgery
There was a catch, though. Leroy couldn’t go through the peritoneal dialysis at home — he would have to go to a dialysis center instead. Also, he had to lose 30 pounds and get his body-fat index under 30 percent.
So, Leroy Gonzalez started walking — up to three miles a day — and he took his diet seriously.
He cut out most carbohydrates — including pasta, which Gonzalez hated to do because, “I’m Italian” — but he also had to avoid foods high in potassium and phosphorus because of his malfunctioning kidney. He lost 30 pounds in a few months, kept the diet and lost another 32.
Elaine Gonzalez and 14-year-old son, Ace, do their part to help Leroy Gonzalez, especially when they gather at the dinner table.
“We stick to whatever he eats,” Elaine Gonzalez said. “It’s kind of like when [older son J.R., a 2016 Robertson graduate] was wrestling. We had to stick to certain foods, so it prepared us for this.”
Leroy Gonzalez also had to be careful about drinking fluids since he can only consume
32 ounces per day. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
“The hard part is not going over,” Leroy Gonzalez said.
If he drinks more than that, it drags out dialysis, which he does three times a week. Gonzalez was on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule before the football season began, but he moved his third appointment to Saturday to avoid conflicts with games.
Changing coaching style
Because he takes an extra day between treatments, the Saturday dialysis filters out more fluids than ones during the week. After games, Leroy Gonzalez estimated Saturday dialysis removes about 11 ounces, as opposed to five during the other visits.
The dialysis sessions also impacted his coaching. On the days he has to go to the center, Gonzalez will hold a 6 a.m. “mini-practice” for about
90 minutes. The rest of practice commences after school, with the Cardinals assistants overseeing it while Gonzalez gets dialysis.
Gonzalez added that he ceded more responsibilities on his coaches in the event that he has to leave for his surgery. That’s not a problem because he has coached with the majority of his staff for several years.
“It’s all about trust,” said Lucas Sanchez, Robertson’s offensive coordinator/defensive backs coach. “We’ve been together for so long, we are all on the same page. We know exactly everything about what goes on during the week.
“We know each other so well that, when Leroy’s here, it’s handled. When he’s not here, it’s handled.”
Leroy said he is anxious to get the surgery done, but not too anxious now that the season is under way — he’d rather it happen in the winter.
“That’s the plan,” Leroy said.
If he had surgery soon, Leroy likely would miss the rest of the season. He was somewhat fortunate in 2011 with the transplant timing of his kidney as the surgery occurred just before two-a-days began, and he was back on the football sidelines by October.
This surgery, though, is more complex than the previous one — and more dangerous.
“The pancreas is a very delicate organ,” Elaine Gonzalez said. “We have to be careful when putting it in there. The process is also going to be a little bit longer and the wait will be a little bit longer to make sure everything is good.”
But patience has been a quality hthat as helped the Gonzalezes endure the past 11 years. It’s also given them a renewed perspective on life. Leroy Gonzalez said he has learned to take things in stride more often, and appreciate the opportunity he has been given.
It’s a byproduct of hours of solitude, which leads to hours of reflection. “We have to remember that some of our worst days aren’t as bad as others,” Leroy Gonzalez said.