Siblings stranded in Miami

Kidney-transplant patient gets new lease on life during lockdown

After six years of living on dialysis, Juan Batista Mata Pena finally got the call he had been praying for – doctors in Miami had found a kidney for him.

The news came as a welcome surprise for the George Town resident and his family.
“On March 6th, I was home getting stuff sorted to come up [to Miami] for the appointments, for the checkups and the same day they (the hospital) called us back in the evening and say they got a kidney and they wanted me to get off island right away to do the transplant,” Pena said in a video interview Wednesday.

The 27-year-old said it was a great relief as his kidney, which his sister donated to him when he was eight, had failed, and he had been on dialysis for six years.

Closed borders bring bad news
However, his joy after undergoing the successful surgery on 7 March quickly dissipated.
Pena and his sister Mardia Bodden would soon find themselves stranded in Miami as Cayman closed its borders and the US suspended all flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, we stuck until I do not know when,” he said.

Juan Mata Pena shortly after undergoing his surgery.

Pena said he was really looking forward to returning to Cayman after his surgery.

“It was really sad because I really wanted me to get home as soon as possible, but when we heard that the borders were going to close, I was, like, I guess we got to be here for more than one month, ‘cause they only gave us four weeks to be here in Miami until after the transplant,” he said.

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Martyn Roper announced that repatriation flights had been organised, but the Miami flight was returning without passengers.

Pena and his sister said they are hoping government will consider more flights later in the month, after his final appointment, so they can return to their families.

“It is very stressful because, right now, my wife is home alone. She is staying at work to help the boss with her children and everything,” he said.

Holding out hope to head home
Pena said he does not have a problem going into isolation or wearing masks if he has to, as it was already part of his recovery regime.

“We really want to get home. When I get home, they want [us] to do the isolation for 14 days. And then, after that, when I am home, I have to be wearing [a] mask for at least six months, until the doctor says I do not have to wear the mask after the transplant,” he explained.

Pena said he and his sister have been trying to get assistance through the emergency travel line without success.

Roper has indicated that calls have been constant but he has urged those attempting to get through to keep trying.

Pena said he will continue to try because his priority is getting back to Cayman and being with those he loves, now that he has a new lease on life.

“Everyone at home is very happy for me to get the transplant because I’ve been on dialysis for too long. Everyone is very happy for me and they want me to be home so they can celebrate with me and say that I am going to live my life a little longer,” he said.

Pena said the strain of being away from home has been a burden as he is responsible for part of the expenses for his stay while some is covered by insurance.

However, despite the lockdown challenges, Pena remains grateful for his second chance at life.

“To be honest, I’m very strong coming back to … my regular self [after being] on dialysis). I am very happy and energetic,” he said.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now