Salute the Badge: Kansas trooper savors gift of life

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Ray Ramirez enjoyed a fairly active childhood, despite the stomachaches and other ailments that started affecting him nearly continuously around the age of 10.

In 1987, at 22-years old and newly married, it got worse.

"I turned yellow, jaundiced," he recalls.

Doctors diagnosed Ray with a chronic condition that was slowly eating away at his liver. They told him he might have a year to live.

Ray was put on a transplant list. For three years, doctors kept him feeling reasonably well while the community rallied his family with fundraisers and other support.

The final year of his wait, his condition became critical.

"I would be in a fetal position on the floor with what felt like stomach cramps and just barely able to breath it hurt so bad - and that would be for hours," he said. "I had gotten down to 80 pounds. I was skinny. My eyes were orange as a basketball."

Finally, in January 1991, they got the call. An 18-year-old in Missouri was killed in a sledding accident. His liver was a final gift - one that would save Ray's life.

"That was exciting," Ray says of getting the call "It's like - second chance time."

The surgery was a success and Ray hasn't wanted to waste a second of his second chance. He spent just 21 days recovering at the hospital - a record at the time.

"My philosophy kind of changed, my outlook on life," he said. "Life's too short - you gotta have fun."

The new attitude led Ray to become a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper in 2002. He says he made the career change because his trooper friends were having so much fun.

"Every day is different when you're a state trooper," he said, "whether it's catching impaired drivers or working crashes or taking somebody to jail who needs to go to jail - or just visiting with a classroom full of students."

But he also knows his joy is only possible from another family's pain.

"Unfortunately, in my line of work, I've had to be the one who knocks on the door in the middle of the night to wake up mom and dad and let them know their child has been involved in a fatal crash or something like that," Ray said.

To all those families, and to those who may face that decision in the future, Ray says you are the true heroes.

"It's needed and those of us who have received an organ are very grateful," he said.

Nearly 500 Kansas are waiting for life-saving organs. You can make it known that you're willing to be an organ donor by joining the registry at www.DonateLifeKansas.com.