We would like to take a moment to appreciate alumni, Nico Jiminez—one of the most positive, inspirational young men we have had the pleasure of getting to know at COTS. We had the pleasure of speaking with Nico and hearing about his unique transplant experience.
Nico was born with biliary atresia, a condition in which the bile duct is blocked, and thus, bile cannot flow into the intestine. As a result of this condition, Nico went into severe liver failure. At only one and a half years old, he received the gift of life. Due to his age of transplantation, the memory is vague, however, Nico recalled that they flew to Edmonton for the procedure, as there was not a transplant center in BC at the time. He remembered that there were magicians on the plane who tried to entertain him, as he was crying quite a bit! While this is a passing memory and not very prominent, this sense of community and support has been consistent throughout Nico’s life and was crucial in helping him become who he is today.
Nico shared his immense appreciation for the people who have supported him throughout his life and his transplant experience. “It really does take a village to raise a child,” Nico noted when recalling how his extended family in the Philippines would come to stay with his parents for periods to help them take care of Nico so that they could continue to work. In addition to his family, Nico shared his appreciation for Debbie and everyone at COTS. COTS has acted as a community base for Nico and his family, allowing them to connect with other families with shared experiences and to feel a sense of support.
Nico and his family connected with COTS when he was approximately five years old. “COTS is like family, and Debbie is amazing!” Nico said, as he fondly recalled his experiences at COTS events over the years. He shared that he particularly enjoyed the summer events and loved going to Zajac Ranch with other kids, where he was able to make lasting connections and friendships. While Nico is 23 years old now and has graduated out of the program, he mentioned that he still likes to keep up with the families through social media and occasionally runs into people at the hospital during checkups. He said that, despite not seeing everyone very often, it always feels very natural when they run into each other, as though no time has passed at all. Having the COTS community as a consistent presence in life has been very helpful, especially as transitioning to adulthood with a transplant can be quite daunting. While hospital visits were a normal part of life from childhood, once he became an adult, Nico had to transition from going to BC Children’s Hospital to Vancouver General Hospital. Nico mentioned the close relationships he had built with the nurses and doctors at Children’s, as well as the comfort and familiarity he felt at the hospital. Switching over to a different hospital and having to make connections anew was challenging, but Nico has tried to take this all in stride.
When asked about any difficulties he has faced with his transplant throughout the years, Nico shared that he has been very fortunate that his liver has functioned smoothly thus far. He has not struggled with rejection, and he has made sure to monitor his diet and sodium intake to maintain long-term health. Nico developed eczema in reaction to his medication, which has been more of a hindrance in his life than the liver itself. While eczema can be uncomfortable and irritating, Nico shared that he does not like to dwell on the negative, but rather stay focused on all of the possibilities that there are available to him. “I like to see every day as a gift, and this has helped me find a sense of purpose,” said Nico. “I’ve been given a second chance at life, so I like to have an attitude of gratitude.” Nico truly chooses to live every day to the fullest, not letting anything get in the way of his ability to lead a “normal” life. Thanks to his new liver, Nico has been able to play on many sports teams at the club level and has gained multiple invaluable skills from doing so, such as teamwork, overcoming obstacles, and learning to find balance. In addition to playing sports, Nico takes guitar lessons and is involved in a weekly youth group. He also just graduated from the University of British Columbia with Honours in Geography and Political Science!
Initially, transitioning to university was quite scary – the campus is quite big and hard to navigate, and learning how to take transit was an experience in and of itself! However, once again, Nico’s optimism and positive outlook on life carried him through. He threw himself into the university experience at full force, becoming involved with student government and becoming an advisor. Nico said that being involved in the first-year programs was extremely helpful and essential to his success, and he would not trade the experience for anything. Nico wants to challenge himself even further and continue to pursue his passion for academics and has therefore moved to the UK to start his Master of Philosophy in Geographical Research at Cambridge University in fall 2020. While he was nervous about moving out on his own and having to figure out an entirely different healthcare system, he was also extremely excited about this opportunity. We wish him the best of luck in his career and this new and exciting chapter of his life!