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As YMCA fundraises, Scottsbluff woman shared story of help she received recovering from liver condition

November 11, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — When Josie Gonzales visited the doctor in 2010 to find out what was wrong with her, she received the worst possible news. Her liver was shutting down.

Her doctor was not there so she saw the doctor on call. Testing revealed her liver was functioning at about 8 percent. She was told she had two choices. She could find someone who might take her case, pray and see if she could be put on a transplant list or go home to hospice. Her husband Lupe told her not to worry and he would take care of the details. He called Dr. Haney, Gonzales’ regular doctor and in less than 24 hours she was in Omaha. More tests were done and a medical team of nearly a dozen people were tending to her physical and mental well-being. She still wasn’t “out of the woods.”

“Part of the problem was we lived too far away from Omaha,” she said. “I couldn’t be placed on the transplant list unless I was less than three hours from the hospital.”

The Gonzales’ packed up their lives in western Nebraska and moved to Kearney. Her name was placed on the transplant list on Dec. 26, 2010. At 12:39 a.m., on Jan. 25, 2011, Gonzales was notified an organ had become available.

“I was already packed, so I took a shower and went to Omaha,” she said.

She spoke to family on the journey to the hospital, had made her last wishes known and gave her letters and journal to her cousin. She arrived for her nine-hour surgery at 3:28 a.m.

“When I woke up in the ICU, Lupe had a mirror and told me to open my eyes,” she said. “When I did, my yellow eyes were gone. The whites were back.”

Within 48 hours she was up and participating in physical therapy. The Gonzales moved to an apartment complex where Josie was required to stay for up to eight weeks after the surgery. On the third day there, she asked Lupe where her wheelchair was.

“‘It’s a crutch, he said. So let’s go,’” she said. “I can be a little hot-tempered and I said I was not going anywhere and go get my wheelchair.”

Lupe told her she had physical therapy in 20 minutes. Her therapy was twice a day because he was convinced they were going home.

“So, I was getting up, walking, cussing, crying and complaining, but I’m there,” she said.

Three weeks and two days later, she left the hospital. She returned to Scottsbluff, where she continued to work out because her liver condition can come back, including if there is an increase in weight. She found welcoming arms from everyone at the Scottsbluff Family YMCA. Josie learned the importance of a facility like the YMCA as well as the importance of compassionate friends.

“The volunteers, instructors and staff push me to be a better person than I was yesterday,” she said. “They help me to go the extra mile every day.”

When she’s at the YMCA, Josie feels like they are part of her family. Her story is one of many at the YMCA. It is one of the reasons the community has generously donated every year during the YMCA’s Community Support Campain, which runs through Dec. 13.

This year’s YMCA budget is $1.9 million. The target of the campaign is always to raise 10 percent of that — $190,000 — which goes to scholarships. In the 34 years of campaigns, the community has helped raise $4,138,380 to be used toward scholarships. So far this year’s campaign has raised $48,475.

Zac Karpf, campaign general chair, said fundraising is a little ahead of where they were from last year. He believes volunteers will be able to meet their goal this year.

From now through Dec. 13, campaigners will contact people in the community to ask if they will contribute to the campaign. They will also tell their YMCA story. For more information on the campaign or to make a donation, call the YMCA at 308-635-2318.

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