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Donations pour in from classmates and school district staff to benefit a recent grad in need of a kidney transplant

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Crook County High School students collected change from classmates Tuesday afternoon for Vicente Ramirez, who needs a kidney transplant. Pictured left to right, junior Lyndee Walker, who will be senior class president, stuffs dollar bills into the bank as freshman Liz Barker and freshman Chloe Arnold look on.

Vicente Ramirez is a trooper.

That's what his high school counselor calls him — a trooper who continues to battle his lifelong health problems.

Now, he faces his next biggest battle — a kidney transplant.

But, Ramirez learned this week that he has a whole community pulling for him.

"I've had problems since I was small," the 18-year-old recent Crook County High School graduate says. "I've had heart problems, and I've had other kinds of problems throughout my whole life. I've been in and out of hospitals."

But his urgent need for a kidney transplant, he says, is his biggest health problem so far.

"I only had one year that I had no health problems," he said, adding that his freshman year of high school was the best year he's ever had.

For two years now, Ramirez has had to connect to a dialysis machine every night when he goes to bed.

Hopefully that will soon change.

Representatives from Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland reached out to Crook County High School counselor Darin Kessi recently for help.

"Vicente is in great need of a kidney transplant. The timing and push is in large part because once he turns 19, in four months, his medical coverage will be changing significantly and not for the better," Kessi explained. "Oregon Health and Science University is working with the Ramirez family to ensure that when a match is found he will receive the best care possible."

OHSU is trying to expedite the transplant process before his insurance changes and has asked the school to help raise $4,000.

"When you get on the transplant list, you have to raise a certain amount of funds just to be available, ready to go when the transplant becomes available," Kessi said.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Vicente Ramirez flashes a smile after his high school graduation ceremony.
The money will cover the cost of living expenses for Ramirez and a family member for one month in Portland should he undergo a transplant within the next few months. Any additional funds will be used for required transplant medications.

"OHSU is also asking us to spread the word to see if anyone in the local community would consider a Living Kidney Donation for Vicente," Kessi said. "OHSU is working on this piece as well, but they figure the more people are talking about it, the greater chance of finding a match."

If Ramirez does not receive a living kidney prior to the age of 19, he will also still qualify for the deceased donor program, Kessi explained. However, that usually takes anywhere from three to five years.

"Still, the money raised will allow him to meet a number of remaining requirements to be put on that list, mainly financial, and these funds will be used to continue to cover his medical expenses as he continues to battle," Kessi said.

The counselor set up a "Victory for Vicente" gofundme online fundraising account Tuesday morning with a $4,000 goal.

He approached the students in the leadership class, asking for additional fundraising ideas, and they ran with it.

"We've put together what we thought would be a great way to raise money," said Brogyn Miller-Sampson, the incoming student body vice president, as he helped collect spare change from classmates returning from lunch Tuesday afternoon.

Students crammed quarters, dimes and dollar bills into the collection bank, and one student even quietly slipped in a $100 bill.

Another student reached out to his family, who handed over a check for $1,000.

Ramirez shyly watched the support come pouring in, thanking kids for their generous donations.

"Happy," he says of how it makes him feel. "I don't know how to express it. I'm happy that they're getting together and making a difference."

As of Thursday morning, the students and the gofundme account had raised $11,969.81 for the Ramirez family.

Kessi is not surprised that the CCHS students are banding together to help a fellow classmate.

"He's just a really genuine person, first of all. He's unassuming. He's very polite. He's very likeable," Kessi says of Ramirez, who has lived in Prineville for 10 years with his parents and three brothers. "As an athlete, he wanted to participate more. He's tried, but his problems, his medical issues have made it so he can't at the level of his classmates or his brother."

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Despite his ongoing health problems, Vicente Ramirez (in white) was able to participate in soccer and track.Ramirez has played soccer and track for CCHS, along with his twin brother, Victor.

"Sometimes I'll get tired, but I'll just keep going because I just love it," Ramirez says of soccer and track.

Kessi pointed out that Ramirez's twin brother, Victor, is an all-state track athlete.

"He's really, really talented. Vicente's athletic experience has been a different journey, but he has not allowed his physical challenges to define him," Kessi said, adding that the twins have a unique relationship, and they support each other. "Vicente is Victor's biggest fan and vice versa. Victor is really supportive of Vicente."

Kessi said their bond shines through, and it's something the students and staff appreciate about them.

"One of the reasons why kids want to get behind this and the staff and the community is because he's just a really genuine person. He's a trooper. He just battles," Kessi said of Ramirez.

Ramirez will continue to wait for a kidney donor in hopes that one comes before his medical insurance changes in October.

"I want to thank everyone who has been able to donate and who has been there since all this started," Ramirez says. "Thank you for all the support."

Victory for Vicente

To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/victory-for-vicente

For information on the kidney donation registry, call Darin Kessi, 541-410-8602, or visit https://www.ohsu.edu/xd/health/services/transplant/kidney/living-donor.cfm

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