In the mountains of Guatemala, in a small Mayan village called Xepatan, is a house. A newly constructed house that sits in stark contrast to the cane and dirt floor homes found throughout the rest of this farming town. This house was built by volunteers from Constru Casa — a nonprofit organization that works to improve the housing conditions of Guatemalans living in extreme poverty. The one-room concrete home is similar to other homes the organization has built, save for one distinctive feature: a small dedication plaque that reads, in part, "Constructed in Honor of Mikel Prieto, M.D. & Mayo Clinic Staff."
The man who hung it there, Ronald Sack, tells us the dedication was a "small gesture" of his appreciation for the life-saving kidney transplant Dr. Prieto and his surgical team at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus performed on him two years ago. That transplant has allowed Ron to continue doing the kind of humanitarian homebuilding he loves. "I received a gift I can never begin to repay," Ron says of his kidney transplant. "I got a second chance at life. And so now I look at helping others who I don't expect to ever pay me back as just one small thing I can do to, in some small way, to try to repay some of the gift I was given by Dr. Prieto and Mayo Clinic. That's why we dedicated this house to them."
Ron tells us his relationship with Dr. Prieto began a few months before his transplant. Ron came to Mayo Clinic after the kidney disease he was born with had reduced his kidney function to less than 20 percent. Told by "another transplant institution" that a transplant would be "fairly complicated" due to his age, Ron tells us Dr. Prieto quickly put that concern to rest. "I was 66 at the time, and Dr. Prieto made my transplant procedure sound routine and like my age wasn't going to be a problem," Ron says. "I knew right then I was in the right place."
Having known for years that a transplant would one day be inevitable, Ron had had plenty of time to plan out with his family what they'd do when he ultimately went into kidney failure. When that day came, a sister held true to her word of being Ron's living donor — provided, of course, that he qualified for the transplant and she qualified as his match.
When the multi-day testing and qualification process at Mayo Clinic confirmed his sister was a match, Ron tells us it was difficult to contain his emotions. "I still can't express it," he says. "To hear them say your transplant is a go was unbelievable. It's a whole new lease on life."
Some two years later, Ron tells us he's continuing to get as much out of life as he can, just as Dr. Prieto instructed him to do. "The day after my procedure, Dr. Prieto came into my room to ask how I was feeling and to ask if I had any questions," Ron says. "I told him I just had one. I wanted to know if I'd ever be able to go back to Guatemala to help build more homes. He said that while he wanted me to use common sense, he also wanted the purpose of my transplant to be that I can now lead a better life. And I have."
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