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“I Know My Job Matters”

Gilbert Ochoa, Manager

We had just returned home to Lincoln, Nebraska after visiting our daughter in California for the Fourth of July, when the phone rang. My wife picked up the phone, listened for about 30 seconds, then screamed and ran out into the field behind our house. I ran behind her to ask what happened. That’s when she spoke through her tears and said, “She’s in a coma.”

It was July 2002. My 21 year old daughter Alicia had been sick for years, but the doctors could never diagnose her. Her immune system hadn’t been functioning properly, and we found out later that had made her lungs collapse.

We needed to get to the hospital in California fast, but we were over 1500 miles away and there were no flights out of Lincoln that night.

In what felt like an instant, we got our four other daughters out of bed, grabbed our still packed suitcases and piled in our white Ford Econoline van. There were nine of us in that van including my son, my wife’s sister, and my mother-in-law. My son and I took turns driving through the night and the next day. It took us almost 23 hours to get to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. That’s when we saw her.

My daughter Alicia and me

My daughter Alicia and me

She weighed just 84 pounds. She was hooked up to a life support machine that was breathing for her. She seemed so fragile in that cold, white, sterile hospital environment—nothing like the vibrant, energetic daughter I knew.

Day in and day out we stayed with her in that hospital. We got a place in Davis. So many of our family members came out from Nebraska. There was always someone by our side giving us hope. The family was united. We prayed in the lobby of the hospital a lot.

We knew she wasn’t brain dead because she would cry when we talked to her. But the doctor said she was crying because of the medication. You never expect your child to die before you, but a lot goes through your head. We never gave up. We knew she would recover. We just didn’t know when or how.

She had been in the ICU for over a month when the doctors suggested we think about pulling the plug. We got a second opinion. Then not knowing what else to do, we tried an experimental drug out of Canada, and she came out of it. The relief we all experienced is unexplainable. It was like being released from a prison of despair.

Now Alicia is 37 and has four kids, but she still struggles a lot with her health. After the incident, she was diagnosed with a form of lupus that affects her immune system and causes her organs to malfunction. Right now her kidneys are functioning at only 30% so she’s going through chemo.

Alicia and her four kids

Alicia and her four kids

A few months ago she was admitted to the ICU again and stayed there for almost two weeks. It’s hard for her to function as a normal person, but we’re all grateful she’s alive. Not everyone’s story has a happy ending.

My son died of a severe illness in 2012 when he was just 31.

It’s because I’ve spent so much time inside hospitals praying for my children that I know my job matters. I’ve been in the medical field for 20 years. I used to work for orthopedic systems making surgery tables, false knees, implants. To see a doctor use one of our tables, cut somebody open, and then watch the patient walk within a month is amazing—it’s crucial work.

I am the manager at the San Leandro MCI office. I love my job because I know that everyday I’m helping save lives. When we transport specimens, we don’t know who we’re affecting, what they’re going through, or what their family is feeling. We don’t know how their story will end, but we know we need to treat every specimen as if life depended on it.

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Road to Health is an interview series that captures the stories of real life MCI couriers navigating their own and family members’ struggles with health. We know how important our job is because we know what it’s like to be on the Road to Health.