Theresa Chavez, a teacher at Ironwood Ridge High School, feels like she is often thought of as “the woman with the sick husband,” while in fact, she is far more than that. She is a mother to two children, Ryan, 12, and Isabella, 19 months. She is a teacher who has been locally recognized for changing the lives of students with troubled home lives. And indeed, she is a wife to Tim Chavez, a man she never wants to have to live without.
But the truth is, Tim is very sick.
When he was 24 years old, Tim was diagnosed with chronic autoimmune hepatitis, which, over the passing years, has caused severe scarring on his liver as his white blood cells continue to attack his own organs. According to doctors, should a liver become available, Tim would immediately qualify for a transplant- he is that ill.
“Tim is dying,” wrote Theresa in a letter for help. “That’s a hard sentence for me to write, because it would bring to an end the most sacred relationship in my life.”
The couple has turned to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, one of the leading liver transplant facilities in the country, for answers.
So far, the only answers have been “more money” and “more waiting.”
Despite the fact the clinic prides itself on a fast turnaround time, Tim’s Type-O blood is very common in other patients also waiting for a transplant, which has increased the waiting time. So far, the couple has been waiting since August 2011, but they know the wait could be much longer if nobody steps forward.
“People have been living in hotels there, waiting for years,” said Theresa. “The waiting is so unbelievably hard.”
While Tim was being evaluated in Florida, the couple was forced to use the majority of their transplant-related savings on housing and medical expenses, to the tune of about $10,000. Even with insurance, the Chavezs are facing many uninsured expenses such as co-pays, deductibles, doctor visits, travel, temporary relocation, and immunosuppressant medications that Tim will require for the rest of his life.
In an effort to compensate for the expenses, the couple has taken out a home equity loan, Theresa has sold her wedding ring, and they are each setting money aside from their paychecks.
Tim has continued to work a reduced schedule, despite his illness, because Theresa’s insurance does not cover the Mayo Clinic.
Tim said his faith, family, and friends keep him going.
“There have been a lot of good-willed people that have stepped in our lives,” said Tim. “Being the father of a 19-month-old, when I see her, she motivates me. This is not going to do me in.”
Theresa said she is willing to do whatever it takes for her husband, including donating a portion of her own liver to save his life. Still, the process would be troublesome for the Chavezs, as the three to four week recovery period would leave them with no income, and nobody to care for their children. As it is, Tim cannot be left alone with Isabella, as her supervision is limited by the fact the disease can cause him to fall asleep.
“That hurts him a lot, because he loves his daughter so much,” said Theresa. “And it really hurts to know he knows all of this is hurting me. I’m not the person I was, and it’s affecting our son, too.”
Tim said he has some mixed emotions about his wife being a donor.
“I know how much we love each other,” said Tim. “I respect her for wanting to do the transplant, but its frightening. It’s somewhat of a risk. I know if the situation were the other way around I wouldn’t hesitate to do it for her, though.”
For Isabella and Ryan, Tim’s disease threatens to leave the two children fatherless. Theresa wants nothing more than for Tim to be alive to raise her children and to see Isabella graduate.
“I want her to have that positive influence of what a real man is in her life,” she said.
Theresa has been fortunate enough to find support from some close friends who have formed a committee to help raise money for the transplant-related expenses. They include Jackie Picton, committee spiritual leader, Lori Giovannini, committee chair, and Cyd Gomez, committee secretary. They are looking to raise $10,000 for Tim’s transplant.
“We are asking 100 people to give $100 for one life,” said Giovannini. “Tim and Theresa are wonderful people who help everyone. I thought it would be nice to help someone who is always helping others.”
Donations for Tim’s transplant can be made on helphopelive.org. To donate to Tim, enter “Timothy Chavez” in the patient search box. All donations to the non-profit organizations are tax deductible and used for transplant purposes only.