U.S. Air Force veteran Thomas Mendez survives COVID-19, still needs kidney donor
SANDESTIN — Thomas Mendez still needs a kidney.
The Daily News ran an article about Thomas’ search for a donor in October 2019. The Air Force veteran, 76, is in dire need of a kidney transplant after a 10-year battle against kidney failure that started when he and his wife, Bettye, moved to Sandestin.
A lot has happened since then: three trips to the emergency room amid a three-week bout against COVID-19; three negative coronavirus tests and several shots to ward off dialysis, a treatment for kidney failure, Bettye said.
Bettye already heard the clock ticking. Now it’s louder.
“Thomas has always been my rock and the kids' as well,” Bettye said. “We are now more afraid than ever.”
Thomas has recovered from COVID-19 and will have his final health examination Jan. 19 to begin testing donors. The couple prays they find one.
After the Daily News article was published, the Mendez family found six potential kidney donors. However, Thomas' battle against the coronavirus was a setback. He contracted COVID-19 just before his final health examination to be cleared for testing donors.
"He came home one day and almost passed out going from the bed to the porch," Bettye said. "I could tell he had a temperature so I took him over to the ER. That man was so sick. I thought he was going to die. He didn't eat a bite of food in seven days."
Mendez suffered from a high fever, nausea and a lack of appetite and thirst, and was also in a pocket of people whom the doctor said had the rare symptom of severe hiccups, Bettye said.
"These were not normal hiccups," Bettye said. "They were loud. They lasted two to three hours without stopping. His lungs and his chest inside got really raw because of them. He lost 32 pounds."
Bettye took Thomas to the Ascension Sacred Heart emergency room three times, where he was eventually admitted. He continued to have testing problems for weeks even after he was non-contagious, she said.
"It was a long and scary three full weeks," Bettye said. "Thank our Lord, he did pull through.”
Because Thomas was unable to make his final health exam in Pensacola, he was dropped from the donor list, Bettye said. He then had to test negative for COVID-19 three times to requalify, which took a total of six weeks.
"We couldn’t believe it," Bettye said. "We were like, ‘Oh no, no no. What are we going to do now?’ We probably lost the donors because they get tired of waiting around. It’s hard when they can’t move on it while they’re excited. But we may get more when they see what he’s gone through."
Thomas has already been approved for the transplant. And as a military veteran, his health insurance will cover the cost of testing, the procedure and other medical expenses for the donor, Bettye said.
A donor is all Thomas needs. He has no viable donors in his family.
She and Thomas have spent 49 wonderful years together, Bettye said. They hope to make it to 50.
"I’m so glad the Lord took care of him during that time, but I’m afraid," Bettye said. "I’m scared to lose my husband. I don’t know what I’ll do. Any woman would feel that way. We’re afraid we won’t find a donor. We’re afraid we missed out on a huge opportunity."
To find out more about donating a kidney to Thomas Mendez, call 334-320-6002 or leave a message at 334-322-1877. To be considered a living donor the person must be 18 years or older (able to consent), according to the Program’s website. In general, living donors must be healthy, freely willing to donate, and have two healthy kidneys. Although there is no upper age limit for donation, donors under the age of 60 years old are preferred.