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George Lopez Finds a Perfect Match

When the comedian needed a new kidney, his wife, Ann, donated one of her own.

A Life With Kidney Disease continued...

"Even when you know you're going to be well, you don't [anticipate] how well you're going to be," says George, whose kidneys had literally been poisoned over the years from a congenital abnormality that caused a narrowing of his ureters, the tubes through which urine travels from each kidney to the bladder. A person normally has two kidneys with one ureter coming from each kidney. "It's a totally new experience, being healthy. It was like being woken up. I was so toxic. I felt toxic."

The kidney's primary function is to filter the bloodstream. As blood flows through the kidneys, waste is extracted from it and excreted as urine. But because of George's narrow ureters, waste could not flow freely out. Instead, it began to flow backward, slowly poisoning his kidneys and inching them closer to kidney failure. Though he never underwent dialysis, he came awfully close. By the time he was admitted to the hospital for surgery, George says, his kidneys were barely functioning and had shrunk so much they did not register on an ultrasound.

In fact, George's kidneys had never worked properly. Growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, he frequently wet his bed, and this could have been related to the problem with his ureters. George remembers feeling ashamed. And his family? They showed no concern. In fact, they made fun of him. "As a little boy, I grew up angry, alone, teased, and tormented," George writes in his 2004 autobiography, Why You Crying?

His new kidney --- and his family's once-cavalier attitude toward his sufferings --- inspired him to write an episode on his sitcom in which his fictional son, Max, wets the bed repeatedly due to the same condition George had. George says he played the role as he might have done with his own daughter, Mayan --- if recent experiences hadn't taught him better.

"I [say to] Max: 'Don't tell your mom -- and don't drink water before going to bed.' It wasn't hard to do those lines. My character wouldn't have known or suspected something really was wrong."

Clues to Kidney Disease

At 17, George also had high blood pressure, which can be both a symptom of and a precursor to kidney disease.

Looking back, he's shocked that someone as young as he had hypertension. At the time, though, it raised no alarms, nor did the fatigue that had begun to plague him as an adult. He rarely saw a doctor. George says he believes the reason is, in large measure, cultural: "Latinos, we only go to the doctor when we are bleeding. We forget about things internal. Fatigue is just fatigue."

George's condition is only one path to kidney failure. The most common cause is diabetes, in which a buildup of sugar in the blood has a similarly poisonous effect. High blood pressure is another cause --- and an effect --- of failing kidneys. An estimated 375,000 Americans are currently undergoing treatment for kidney failure. It kills nearly 70,000 people each year.

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