Kidney Donor Works with Transplant Patients

April 28, 2014

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a more personal connection to her work than Maryluz Rivera, an administrative assistant in Department of Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Ms. Rivera, who works with renal transplant patients, is a kidney donor herself.

Donating an organ to her cousin was a life-saving experience for her cousin—and a life-defining one for her. For Transplant Awareness Month, Ms. Rivera shares her experience both as a donor and as one of the people making things go smoothly for transplant patients after surgery.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I help with administrative tasks with post-transplant patients, right after surgery. It involves a lot of different responsibilities. I coordinate appointments, make phone calls, put in lab orders, give patients the results of lab tests, and so much more.

It’s chaotic, but I like it! I also have a very personal connection to this job, because I am a kidney donor myself.

Tell us about your experience as a donor.

I donated my kidney to my cousin in 1998.

She was diagnosed with lupus when she about 12; 11 years later, when her son was born prematurely, she went into renal failure.

She was on dialysis for 19 months and on a list of about 2,000 awaiting kidneys.

My family members and I got tested to see if any of us was a donor match, and I was.

At that time, I was 22 and a full-time employed mom with two very young boys. Believe it or not, I was back at work and rollerblading—yes, rollerblading—two weeks out of surgery. I became pregnant with my third and last child later the same year.

My cousin and I just celebrated 16 years since the transplant in February. Her lupus has been in remission for quite some years now. All I can say is, God is good, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision. It felt like the most natural thing to do. I would encourage organ, blood, and bone marrow donation to others. The next life that needs saving may be your own.

How did you find yourself working at NYP/CUMC?

I want to say I don’t believe in coincidences, but by chance, I found myself working as a temporary financial coordinator in renal transplant in October 2013. Then when there was an administrative assistant position open, I was referred to the department head. I have a long commute from Astoria, but when I got the opportunity to work in this area I care about so much, I had to jump on it.

Do you think your personal history as a kidney donor makes you better at your job?

I think it makes me a little more compassionate. I try not to cross any boundaries, but it’s hard not to care for patients, because I know what they are going through. It’s a nerve-racking time for patients after surgery, so I’m like a friend as well as an administrative assistant.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Definitely the people. I like patient contact. It can be a little overwhelming, but it is very rewarding. I would not be at a hospital if I could not interact with patients.

I also work with a really great team. Everyone is like family. We can agree to disagree sometimes, but there’s a high level of respect for what everybody does.

Maryluz Rivera's experience as a donor originally appeared in NYPress.