Jun 9, 2020
Cruise Against the Clock for a Perfect Kidney Match

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Time wasn’t necessarily on Melissa Flores’ side in August of 2019.


At that time, Flores was on the waiting list for a second kidney transplant. She decided to join her family on a Mexican cruise not thinking anything would change while she was away.


Flores’ journey with kidney disease began at age 23. Pregnant with her first child, she was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a genetic form of kidney disease. Over the next 20 years, she would slowly progress to kidney failure. She began in-center hemodialysis at 42 while juggling a full-time job and two children in high school.


“I never thought I’d have to go on dialysis,” said Flores. “When I started treatment, I was determined to not my disease beat me. I wasn’t going to let it be a death sentence.”


Finding a match for a kidney transplant was difficult. Almost everyone Flores knew got tested. After nine months on dialysis, two of her friends matched for potential donation. Flores received her first kidney transplant in September of 2010.  


Life was pretty normal for about three years. One day in 2013, Flores felt like she had a cold or the flu. Those mundane symptoms were signs that her kidney was failing. It was time to go back on dialysis. This time, Flores chose peritoneal dialysis at home.


The next hiccup occurred in 2018 when Flores tried to return to the kidney transplant list. Routine screening revealed a mass on her native kidney. The malignant tumor had to be removed and then she was approved for the transplant list.


The cruise was an opportunity for celebration. But while Flores and her family were sailing the seas, they had no idea what was transpiring back home.


Methodist Hospital | Specialty and Transplant had matched Flores to a new kidney. When the hospital’s transplant coordinator couldn’t reach her, she called Flores’ nurses at DaVita El Milagro Dialysis to try to track her down.


The two women got to work. They knew Flores was on a Carnival cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. After a few hours of calling the cruise line, they finally reached the right ship’s staff.


Carnival staff began urgently paging Flores and her family via the overhead system. Flores saw the area code on the line and knew the day she’d been hoping for had arrived: the transplant center had found her kidney donor.


“When I first heard the news, my heart sank,” recalled Flores. “I told the center I wouldn’t be back until the next morning. But again, the odds were in my favor. I was told that if could be at the hospital by 2 p.m. the next day, the kidney could still be transplanted.”


Learning of Flores’ predicament, the ship’s captain sped up arrival to the Port of Galveston. Her family received permission to depart the ship first. They were then transported by Flores’ son, a police officer, to San Antonio through rush hour traffic. They made it to the hospital at 12:30 p.m., just in time for Flores to receive her rare, zero mismatch kidney transplant.


Following her successful transplant, Flores continues to work, spend time with her family and advocates for living kidney donation.


“Many folks do not understand it’s possible to change someone’s life through kidney transplantation – while they are still alive,” said Flores. "That’s why I advocate for living donors wherever and whenever I can.”