A Story of Hope and Appreciation
Story BY: CHARLES A. COULOMBE
Many of the staff and volunteers at City of Hope are there because they themselves were once patients at the hospital, and loved the environment and manner of treatment so much they wanted to be a part of it. A stellar example of this is Rodrigo Nuñez, who first came to City of Hope as a teenager in 1978. A decade later, he received his Registered Nurse license, and has worked at City of Hope ever since.
“I came from Guanajuato, Mexico, when I was 17, to pick grapes in the orchards around Livingston, California. After about six months, I started getting nosebleeds and bruises. One day, while I was on my way to a store, I passed out and they sent me to the local hospital. I got a blood transfusion and felt a lot better, but they diagnosed me with aplastic anemia – my bone marrow was not producing enough red blood cells. They told me they couldn’t do anything for me, and that the only place that I could go was the new bone marrow transplant center at City of Hope. That was I how I got there.”
At the time, Rodrigo spoke no English. He vividly remembers the staff trying their best to speak to him in Spanish, and going out of their way to help him and make him feel at home. “I was hungry when I arrived, and I had nothing. One of the nurses gave me her lunch. I’ll never forget that!” After determining that his was a worthy case, City of Hope admitted him for treatment at no charge. They arranged for his family in Mexico to be tested for donor eligibility at the University of Guadalajara. “My oldest and youngest brothers qualified. The hospital flew them here to California, and the oldest one donated marrow and the younger one blood platelets.”
After the bone marrow transplant, he needed somewhere to recover. City of Hope found the Hidalgo family, who lived in South Pasadena and had three children; they agreed to let him stay with them for ten days. But they got along so well, he would live with them for five years while he attended South Pasadena High School. “I knew what I wanted to do with my life – I wanted to give back something of what I had been given.” Rodrigo then went to Pasadena City College for two years, and earned his RN there in 1988. “I went to work at the bone marrow transplant center with Dr. Stephen Forman – the doctor who had been my physician.”
Rodrigo has not had a recurrence since, for which he is grateful – as he is for many things. “I am a believer. And I am so grateful to God for everything He has given me – for my recovery and my good health, my family, the Hidalgos, City of Hope – everything. I don’t smoke or drink, but I have a wonderful life, and City of Hope is so much a part of all of it. I love the reunions – when they started, there were just a few of us – now there are thousands. I am just so grateful to be here. I have my wife, my family, my friends. You know, some people have it better than me, but a lot more have it worse. And I want to give back some of what I was given.”
At 56 years old, many men are planning their retirement. Not Rodrigo. “I don’t have any plans to retire. I’ll keep working at City of Hope until I can’t work anymore. I can’t even imagine doing anything better.”