LIHUE — Alyssa Gutierrez and her family members knew there was something wrong when the normally vivacious 25-year-old Kapaa resident began feeling increasingly lethargic and tired for no apparent reason.
It had started in March.
But things took a turn for the worse when she woke up one morning with jaundice, a medical condition that caused the whites of her eyes and her skin to turn yellow.
Over the next several months, Gutierrez was in and out of the hospital as physicians and disease specialists tried to track down the cause of her condition and get it under control.
It was a question that seemed to have no solid answer, her mother Gabrielle Wilson said. Some physicians thought Gutierrez had contracted mononucleosis — others thought it was a case of meningitis.
One thing was clear: Gutierrez’s liver function was waning and her blood tests showed no sign of it stopping.
By the time Gutierrez was referred to specialists on Oahu in July, Wilson said her daughter’s diagnosis was very bad. The young woman now needs a new liver and sees a team of doctors every morning on Oahu.
“It’s very hard for us,” said Wilson, a former Kauai resident and fourth-grade teacher at King Kaumualii Elementary School, who is on family medical leave from her job in Texas to care for her daughter in Honolulu. “She’ll be very weak until they can find a new liver for her.”
The journey has been difficult. Gutierrez has been fighting a recurring case of bronchitis for the past several months — a condition made worse by her low immune system.
Gutierrez, the mother of a 2-year-old girl, is also hooked to an oxygen machine at all times and must have her abdomen drained of excess fluid daily.
A small room at the Pagoda Hotel is where Gutierrez; Wilson; Gutierrez’s fiancé, Jack Olson; her grandmother; and Gutierrez’s daughter Isabella Marisol have made their home since the beginning of last month.
Wilson said her daughter, who ran a house cleaning business on Kauai, is at the top of the wait list for a liver transplant in Hawaii but explained that her case is not severe enough yet to warrant a regional search for a liver.
There is no inkling as to when a liver matching Gutierrez’s body size and blood type will become available, Wilson said. And even if that does happen and the transplant is successful, Wilson said her daughter will have to stay on Oahu for another month so doctors can ensure that her body doesn’t reject the new organ.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but it does her good to have her support system,” Wilson said. “I mean, she begs me to stay with her at night in the hospital and I sleep on a cot near her. I’ll do whatever it takes as long as she’s better — her daughter needs a mom and I need my daughter. I can’t imagine losing her — I don’t know how I would survive if she were gone.”
And the bills are coming in.
While Gutierrez’s health insurance has paid for a lot of her care, Wilson said the daily laboratory tests conducted to monitor her daughter’s progress are adding up.
“There’s not a lot of money coming in but a lot of money going out,” Wilson said.
To help offset medical costs, family and friends on Kauai are hosting two fundraisers at King Kaumualii Elementary School on Saturday.
The first, a bake sale and quilt drawing donation table, will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the cafeteria.
Later in the day, several Zumba Fitness instructors, including Cheryl Perreira, Stacie Cantu, Brandon Allianic and Joanie Morita, will host a fundraiser from 4 to 6 p.m. in the cafeteria. Tickets for the two-hour Zumba class will be $10 at the door and through Perreira and Cantu.
“Many of us have gone through our own difficult situations and benefited from the support of our family, friends and community,” said event organizer Jean Ogawa, who worked with Wilson at King Kaumualii Elementary School. “This is a way to help a young family in need.”
Wilson said she is humbled by the support from friends on Kauai.
“The people on the island are just the most amazing people I’ve ever met — they’re lifelong friends,” Wilson said. “They really understand what friendship is. It’s not about what you have or how much money you have — it’s who you are and it’s from the heart.”