Radha Guntuku (left) and Denise Rose sit at the table that started their whole journey together trying to help a family in need of a kidney.(Photo: Charmaine George)

The story of how two New Tampa women combined forces to try to help a Land O’Lakes man find a kidney donor starts with a table.

It was a table that Denise Rose, who lives in Tampa Palms, was ready to purchase from Sylvia Moreta via the Facebook Marketplace a little more than a month ago.

Denise was supposed to pick the table up on a Tuesday, but Sylvia abruptly canceled and asked if Friday would work.

Denise thought that was odd, and worried about a scam, so she took a look at Sylvia’s Facebook page for clues. What she found out was that Tuesday was that Sylvia’s birthday was that Tuesday, but what really jumped out at Denise was that Sylvia was asking for donations for the Florida Kidney Foundation, because her 34-year-old son was in dire need of a kidney.

The Moreta family (l.-r.) Maverick, Kristina, Anthony and Amelia. Anthony is awaiting a kidney donor, less than a year after his brother received a transplant. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Moreta)

That hit close to Denise’s heart. In 2021, she had donated a kidney to her brother Dennis, saving his life. She understood the fear and the worry that likely was gripping Sylvia.

So, Denise called Sylvia, and they talked for an hour, and they shared their stories with each other. 

Denise was moved to action. Not only had she had faced the same worries when she donated a kidney to her brother, but she knew someone else who had a similar experience — fellow Tampa Palms resident Radha Guntuku, who contacted the Neighborhood News in 2020 when her son Raj was in dire need of a kidney.

Because Denise was going through her donation at the same time the Neighborhood News had published its piece on Raj’s plight, she found some solace following the story. Raj found his donor in K-Bar Ranch resident Joel Morales, who had seen the same story and was compelled to help.

After Raj received his kidney in March and Denise donated hers in May, she reached out to Radha for the first time, they talked, and she eventually met Radha and Raj.

“It’s like we were living parallel experiences during that time,” says Denise, who has even written a children’s book on kidney donations.

It was only natural, then, that Denise would connect Radha, also once a worried, frightened mother, to Sylvia, who is now going through the same thing.

“I just thought, ‘(Radha’s) gonna want to help Sylvia,’” Denise said. “And, she did. I mean, she responded within a minute of my text. Sylvia was so gracious. I told her. ‘You’re not by yourself.’”

Radha eagerly offered assistance. They began spreading the word, hoping a donor would step forward. Radha used the same contacts she used when searching for Raj, including telling Denise to contact the Neighborhood News, because that’s how she found her donor.

“You know, she’s just giving it back, because you guys helped her so much,” Denise says. “She’s been great. Just trying to help someone out, right?”

For Sylvia, it has been a fear-filled year. Her sons were both always going to need kidney transplants, having grown up with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is a disease that attacks the glomeruli, the tiny filtering units inside your kidney where blood is cleaned.

When Sylvia’s older son Victor, who had been on the donor list for a few years by then, had his kidney transplant in May 2022, she thought it would be years before Anthony, who was seven years younger, would need one as well. 

But, only a few months later, Anthony wasn’t feeling well and his blood pressure was sky-high, so he had to be hospitalized.

“It was kind of a surprise because his brother is older and he just got a transplant last June, so we were kind of hoping we had a few more years and our (3- and 4-year-old) kids would be a little bit older during this crazy thing,” said Anthony’s wife Kristina. “But, in August, we were told he was in complete kidney failure, that we were really lucky to get him in that day. He ended up staying there for almost a week in the hospital, getting dialysis pretty much every day, which normally you go three times a week for.”

For Sylvia, the news was devastating. 

“It is very hard for us,” said Sylvia, who lives in Lutz. “More for my husband. I have stronger faith, so I relied on God in order to survive. With this one, I feel numb. I am in shock. I think the surprise is still affecting me.”

While there have been glimmers of hope, Anthony is still awaiting a donor. It can be a difficult process, because while many people may want to donate, the percentage of finding perfect matches is still pretty low.

Despite knowing that the day would eventually come, Sylvia says it wasn’t any easier last May when Victor was in the hospital receiving his transplant.

“I would say when we saw (Victor) in the hospital, probably around May of last year, I think it really hit us hard,” Kristina says. “Anthony said, ‘The clock is ticking.’ And, he was trying to make sure to kind of get everything in order because of our kids.”

A donor for Anthony is waiting in the wings, Kristina says, but nothing has been finalized. She knows better than to get her hopes up too much,

Anthony receives dialysis at a facility three days a week at 5 a.m., and continues to work as an auto mechanic at Tampa BMW. Victor, a police officer who received his kidney from a friend, continues to offer support and advice.

Denise and Radha are diligently scouring the area, online and offline, for a suitable donor. They understand. They want to help any way that they can.

And, Sylvia continues to have faith for her son, even though some days it is harder to maintain than others.

“Remember what I told you about my faith? Well, God did it once, he’s going to do it again,” Sylvia says. “I think it’s going to happen like the first time, I really do. But, I have been scared. I get a little anxious. I have my days. And then, I have to go back to trusting that something good is going to happen.”

Potential kidney donors for Anthony Moreta must have the O blood type. If you know of anyone who might be willing to donate or want to help yourself, call Anna Harrop, RN BSN CMSRN, Living Donor/Pre-Kidney Transplant Coordinator, at (727) 588-5618. To help the Moreta family, visit https://gofund.me/02e64627.

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