BY VIANNA DAVILA : OCTOBER 27, 2013 : Updated: October 28, 2013 5:48am
SAN ANTONIO – When Daniel Govea heard that his neighbor Sharon Ledesma would be taken off life support, he rushed to the hospital to see her.
Ledesma was struck by a car while crossing the street with her children early Wednesday. She pushed the children out of the way, saving them from serious harm, but did not survive the injuries she suffered in the crash.
Govea said he never expected that Ledesma would soon save his life, too.
He had been on a list for a kidney transplant since February. In the end, the organ would come from Ledesma, whose family has been close to the Goveas for two decades.
Less than 24 hours after Ledesma was removed from life support Friday, Govea was in surgery to receive her kidney.
It was a bittersweet kind of miracle — Govea’s family is thrilled that he has a second chance at life, even as they mourn Ledesma’s death. She left behind three children, including a 3-year-old son named Brian, who was not with her when Wednesday’s accident occurred.
“This tragedy happened, and it turned out to be a miracle for my father,” said Govea’s son Daniel Jr.
From his hospital bed Sunday, Daniel Govea tried to convey his gratitude for Ledesma’s gift.
“There’s no words for what she did for me,” he said.
Govea, 51, last talked to Ledesma on Tuesday, when she saw him playing with his dog in the yard.
The next morning, before sunrise, Ledesma, 28, was walking son Dominic Rojas, 11, and daughter Mallory Rojas, 8, to her mother’s house in the 3900 block of Culebra Road. Their grandmother would then take them to school.
The driver of a Mazda sedan was preparing to turn onto another street from Culebra but didn’t see Ledesma and the children in time to stop before the impact.
Ledesma shoved the children out of the way. All three were rushed to the hospital with injuries, but hers proved life-threatening.
By early Thursday, doctors had declared Ledesma brain dead. She was kept on life support so her organs could be harvested and donated to people awaiting transplants. Her family immediately decided Govea should be one of them.
“He was first in line,” said Ledesma’s sister Priscilla Ledesma.
The families have been close for years: Ledesma and her siblings lived with their grandmother, who is Govea’s next-door neighbor. They had gatherings and grew up together, they said.
Govea went to the emergency room earlier this year, struggling to breathe. Doctors told him his kidneys were failing; they immediately put him on dialysis and added him to the list for a kidney donation.
It was the last thing on his mind when he and his family went to visit Ledesma in the hospital last week.
The Govea family had just stepped off the elevator when they saw Ledesma’s mother and a nurse walking toward them.
“Oh my god,” said Ledesma’s mother, referring to Govea. “There he is.”
She asked to speak to him in private. The family wanted to donate Ledesma’s kidney, they told him, and wanted to know his blood type.
O-positive, he said.
A perfect match.
“He was just shocked,” Govea Jr. said, describing his father’s reaction. “He didn’t know what to say.” Govea hoped that Ledesma would recover “and make it to be with her kids,” his son said.
“I’m just so sorry it had to happen like that,” Govea said.
On Friday, he received a phone call from a doctor who told him to head to the Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital for the surgery early Saturday.
Govea was out of the ICU on Sunday, resting and recovering in a hospital room. He said his doctors told him he could go home before Halloween.
Govea feels conflicted, said brother Eddie Rodriguez, knowing he got his second chance because a young mother — a woman he’d known most of her life — had died.
“He was scared to show any excitement, because he knew where it was coming from,” Rodriguez said.
In all, five people received Ledesma’s organs, Priscilla Ledesma said.
Govea’s family reminded him he’s lucky to know the identity of the person who saved him because, “a lot of times, you don’t get to know the donor,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and many of Govea’s other relatives helped some of Ledesma’s family members at a barbecue plate benefit Sunday, organized to raise money for her funeral expenses and medical bills. Lines were long, and a steady stream of people kept arriving, causing mini-traffic jams in the parking lot of the AutoZone where the event was held. Some visitors were so moved by Ledesma’s story, they came just to give cash donations.
Mallory, Ledesma’s daughter, arrived on crutches. Her pelvis was fractured in the accident.
“She was a caring mom,” she said.
The mood soured later in the day, as a verbal confrontation erupted between Ledesma’s siblings about who should oversee the money raised and her final expenses. Several police officers showed up at the event, where dozens of people were still standing in line. The disturbance was resolved without incident.
To Rodriguez, it was a disappointing turn of events after an incredibly emotional few days.
The squabbles did nothing to tarnish his gratefulness for what the Ledesma family had done for his brother; nor did it diminish the sense that Sharon Ledesma’s spirit will remain alive in Govea.
“Every time the Ledesma family sees my brother,” Rodriguez said, “they’re going to know part of her lives on.”