Hospital nurse deals with kidney disease while helping in COVID-19 fight

Chief Nursing Officer Frank Acevedo is pictured Thursday at Valley Regional Medical Center Brownsville. Acevedo worked for months during the COVID-19 pandemic with kidney failure before he received a transplant from his sister in June of 2020.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

By DENISE CATHEY | Staff Photographer

BROWNSVILLE — With 2020 over, Frank Acevedo, the chief nursing officer for Valley Regional Medical Center Brownsville, has a lot to look back on in the year-that-was. Like many of his staff, this year was full of turmoil as healthcare professionals found themselves on the frontlines of COVID-19.

“This was a challenging year. At the beginning of the year they said that this was ‘The Year of the Nurse’ and little did I know what that meant. That they were going to task every nurse because lots of nurses wound up staying to fight this together,” said Acevedo.

For Acevedo serving his community was always his calling.

“As a young kid I always wanted to help people,” said Acevedo.

To that end he spent his high school years on a bus riding an hour each way to and from Brownsville to attend school at South Texas Independent School District which had a magnet program for medical professionals.

From there he took his first steps, working as a surgical tech in the U.S. Air Force before coming back to Brownsville to get his associates and bachelors in nursing from University of Texas at Brownsville and later his masters at University of Texas at Tyler. In 1996 Acevedo began a job as surgical tech and took the first step into what is now his career of over twenty years at VRMC.

“Fast forward to 2020 and the pandemic hit. If there was ever a time for me to be the Chief Nursing Officer it was at that time,” said Acevedo.

Acevedo had just one problem that even his staff wasn’t aware of; he’d been diagnosed years earlier with chronic kidney disease and was now in the end stages of complete kidney failure.

“We had all the swells, and we had all that coming, but then it got pretty bad and I couldn’t even sleep at night because I was in congestive heart failure. I couldn’t breathe and I was trying to endure it as long as I could. I said ‘this is the worst time for me to be out’,” Acevedo remembers.

However there was hope, in 2018 he’d reached out to a sister hospital in San Antonio and learned that organ donation, specifically a live donation from a family member, was an option. Acevedo brought it up with his wife Sonia and their extended family. Unbeknownst to him, they’d already found a volunteer in his sister Elisa Aguilar to see if they were a match.

For me, it was more like ‘how could I not get tested?’. After a year of various tests we finally got the green light,” said Aguilar. They were a match.

However, they still had to wait. Acevedo wasn’t yet sick enough yet that his doctor would perform the transplant. After a trip to the ER in March, Acevedo was put on dialysis for two months, he was finally sick enough. In June Acevedo and his sister went to San Antonio to do the transplant.

Within a few months Acevedo was jumping at the bit to get back to work, to use his new energy as ‘Frank 2.0.’ helping his staff and his community as the second swell began in Brownsville.

Acevedo sees this experience as a new chance, not only to be there for his wife and three children, but to educate the public on preventative care and share his perspective for people considering organ donation. Most importantly it serves as a reminder each day of the impact that just one person helping their fellow man can do for their community in this new year.

“There’s always hope out there and I think you have to appreciate every single day and the people that you are surrounded by and don’t lose the opportunity to connect and make an impact…I am just so grateful that, as a nurse, I can impact many lives. We all can’t miss an opportunity to make a difference in the upcoming year, but we’ve got to stay together and work together,” said Acevedo.

For more information about organ donation visit the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance at www.tosa1.org.


dcathey@brownsvilleherald.com