Sister before self

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kay M. Nissen
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The day he found out about his sister's condition, he knew he would go through any lengths necessary to help her.

Now seven months later, Tech. Sgt. Simon Garcia, 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron project manager, is scheduled to fly home Dec. 1st and enter the last phase for a major operation - kidney transplant.

"I was notified about it and immediately I knew it was probably going to be me (who would be a match), I don't know why or how, so I started the process," he said.

Garcia knew there would be some special considerations about organ donation in the Air Force so he began researching.

"I've never known anyone who had to go through the process of being a match. It was a big learning curve for me and my leadership," said the veteran cable dog. "(I) heard some rumors, or people's minimal experience with the the beginning it was daunting, but the more and more I dug with DoD policies and working my way down, everything (the policies) say is without coercion they encourage people to be donors whether that (is) blood or organs or bone marrow."

Garcia began medical tests "in correspondence." He underwent procedures locally like DNA tests and CT scans, and sent results for analysis where his sister was being treated.

He received some outside help when his commander put him in contact with two wing commanders at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, who had also gone through the process of preparing for a kidney donation.

"We reached out to (the wing commanders) and they emailed Sgt. Garcia back and encouraged him," said Maj. Angela Freeman, 1st CMXS commander.

"From the time I let my leadership know, they were on board with it and were fully supportive. I'm thankful for that," said Garcia, recalling Freeman's actions and also how his first sergeant had even walked around the base hospital asking questions for more information.

Through his persistence, Garcia was able to find a source who could guide him through the entire process when he met Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Dunn, 86th Medical Support Squadron TRICARE operations and patient administration flight superintendent.

"(Dunn) was able to answer a lot of questions and point me in the right direction," said Garcia.

Although this was Dunn's first time encountering a request for kidney donation, she was able to assist Garcia with the approval process up to the Air Force Medical Operations Agency.

"AFMOA oversees the execution of the Air Force Surgeon General policy," said Dunn. "My role is to ensure the member receives the appropriate AFIs and guidance...and make sure all the information that I can foresee the reviewing authority may ask (is available)."

According to the office of the Air Force Surgeon General, there are approximately 10 organ donation requests per year which are approved through AFMOA. However, approval to undergo the procedure does not excuse Airmen from potential risks to their health or career.

"I counseled (Garcia) about the elective treatment and his subsequent ineligibility for disability compensation for any adverse residuals incurred secondary to the elective treatment," said Dunn. "If he's on a long-term profile, he may need to go through the medical evaluation board."

With the surgery scheduled for mid-December, Garcia is expected to have a full recovery, but risks are still a factor. With the possibility of complications resulting in removal from the military, the 15-year technical sergeant is steadfast in his decision to press forward with the procedure.

"My primary focus right now is my sister, so I mean (my career) kind of comes second," he said. "I've been (in the military) going on 15 (years) so if it's time for me to make a change, then its time."

Garcia has no question about his motivation to step in and help his sister.

"She's kind of like my second mom," he said. "She took care of (my family), cooked for us even at a young age...even when I joined the military."

With this bond to his sister, Garcia explains that it's hard to see her in this state, admitting he would not have coped so well if he were facing the same challenges.

Even with the surgery on his mind, his biggest concern is to get his sister better and move on to his next duty station.

"I have my moments where I do get nervous when I think about it, but I'm so distracted by the logistics of it," said Garcia. "I have a small window, so I need to get this done and move out. I want to get (my sister) better...but I guess it's just the military mindset."

For others who may face the decision or challenges coming with an organ donation, Garcia offers this advice: "Stay adamant and stay patient. It'll work itself out."

For more information on the organ donation process, consult Air Force Instruction 41-210, par. 2.53; AFI 44-102, par. 6.12; TRICARE Policy Manual section 7.1, chapter 1; TPM section 24.8, chapter 4; and TPM section 24.9, chapter 4.