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Between Dialysis and Service to the Poor

It was a rainy March Sunday morning in Atlanta, Georgia. Before 7:00 a.m., Isaac picked me up and took me to one of his favorite Sunday activities: feeding the homeless throughout inner-city Atlanta.

As we merged onto the expressway, Isaac smiled and said how excited he felt to be able to drive again.

We entered a small house on top of a hill, the house of Yolanda and Fidel Pérez. They were running around packaging sandwiches, washing dishes, and organizing the twenty-some volunteers for that day. Isaac walked in and immediately many people came over to hug him and ask how he was doing. With patience and a humble heart, he said he was okay. After we loaded several SUVs with a couple hundred ham sandwiches, big coolers with hot coffee and orange juice, several boxes of Mexican sweet bread, and some bags of clothing, we were off to meet Jesus in the poor. Isaac was now driving a big SUV full of five volunteers and me.

The morning rain was cold, the wind was mild, but these good Samaritans knew where their brothers and sisters were: under bridges, outside public buildings, and in some parks.

As soon as the cars arrived, lots of the homeless came out to get the food. They have been doing this every Sunday for four years. Isaac grabbed a couple of sandwiches and walked toward some people who were reluctant to approach the SUV. He did the same thing on several stops.

Besides breaking bread, Isaac was breaking Word in conversation with the poor; yet not many people know the things Isaac has to endure in order to do what he loves.

Last December, Isaac started feeling quite bad and went to the hospital.

The doctors found that his kidneys were failing; at that point, his kidneys were working at only a five-percent level. The diagnosis was something called bilateral echogenic kidney disease. Ever since that day, Isaac goes to dialysis three times a week; he is also on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.

This was not an easy reality to accept. Isaac admits, “In the beginning I did not even know how to feel. I was afraid; and at night, in the hospital room, I broke down in tears and asked God to strengthen my faith.” All of his plans were thrown into limbo, causing great concern and much disruption to Isaac and his family as they worked to get a handle on what needed to be done now.

Isaac Ramos was born in Mexico City on January 15, 1992. His family came to the United Stated when he was a 5 years old. He lives with his parents and his three younger sisters in Gwinnett County, a suburban county 15 minutes from Atlanta. Until last December, he worked as an athletic director at a high school while studying Motorsports Engineering. His passion had been to race cars and now he was not even allowed to drive. So many activities had to be put on hold until his health became more stable.

Although he had to quit his job and his school program, Isaac did not give up on two things that give him life: feeding the poor and leading his parish Latino young-adult group.

In addition to his feeding the homeless ministry, Isaac coordinates Young Adults United Following God (Jusad), the young adult group in Spanish at the Saint John Newman parish, in Lilburn, Georgia. Isaac is one of the founding members of Jusad, which was created about two years ago. Several dozen young adults gather every Saturday to live out their experience of God as Latino Catholics in the South.

“We welcome everybody with open arms and offer them opportunities that will benefit them and help them develop their talents and their faith. We don’t judge, we are proactive, and all are welcome,” says Isaac.

It is amazing to come across people like this 23-year-old man, with a bright smile and eyes full of hope and energy.

Despite the many obstacles in his life and his own severe health challenges, Isaac chooses a meaningful life; he chooses to live to the fullest with whatever he has. “Sometimes it is difficult to believe in yourself,” reflects Isaac, “but you have to have a vision of what you want to do and be. You have to visualize a goal, a finish line, and work on achieving it.”

There are two catheters always attached to Isaac’s chest and stomach for his dialysis, which sometimes limit his mobility and force him to alter things in his routine; yet he does not give up on his deep ideals. He shares with me what he learned at home: “My mom always motivated me to do something with my life by taking full advantage of the opportunities that come my way. My father always said that when we do something, we’d better finish it and finish it well.”

(Article featured at Oye! Magazine: )

Fr. Byron with a candidate

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