EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – One El Paso family is wanting to raise awareness about the blood disorder hemophilia after their father and husband was diagnosed with the disease. Orlando Zapata was originally diagnosed in 2016 and lived a relatively normal life, but that all changed because of a necessary triple bypass surgery.
Zapata was diagnosed with hemophilia type XIII which is one of the most rare forms in the world, affecting only one in 5 million people. This meant that he had to avoid accidentally cutting himself and let doctors know ahead of time if they need to perform a procedure because of the risk of bleeding out.
When he needed a triple bypass surgery back in November, the procedure could not be done in El Paso and he had to be flown to Houston.
He was there for over two months which meant he was away from his family for the holidays. His wife, Julie Priego-Zapata, said that caused emotional strain, not just on her but on the rest of the family.
“It was not only emotional for me being out there because he was in a coma most of the time and I was alone in Houston with him. It was very draining on our family that was left here. We normally have presents under the Christmas tree for anybody that comes and this year there was none,” she said.
Zapata was able to make it through the surgery successfully. However, there were complications afterward that caused him to need several blood transfusions in order to survive.
“His chest had to remain open for about six days. They could not close him up. He was with an open chest because every time they attempted to close his chest, he would bleed out every time. He would bleed out. It was nine liters of blood that they had to get for him,” his wife said.
Zapata had to go to Houston for his surgery because El Paso does not have a facility to treat those diagnosed with hemophilia. However, there is a team of doctors, including Dr. Satish Maharaj, who are working on opening up a facility so that families do not have to travel long distances.
“In El Paso if you have a bleeding problem such as this, you try to access this high level of care so we are working on that, getting a hemophilia treatment center here but usually it takes a full team of hematologists either pediatric or adult,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj does want to make sure that if someone is diagnosed with the disorder they are aware that they are more at risk if they take over the counter medications, including aspirin.
“So things like ibuprofen, they are available over the counter. They actually do put you at a higher risk of bleeding so if you have a bleeding disorder you should avoid those medications unless recommended by a physician,” the doctor said.
Zapata was able to return to El Paso but is currently being treated at a long-term acute care facility until he is strong enough to go home. Now his family, including his wife, want to continue to raise awareness about the disorder.
“Every two seconds, somebody needs blood. We were that somebody. Had we not been flown to Houston where they have the resources, he wouldn’t be alive because we don’t have the resources and I want to tell people to donate blood,” his wife added.
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