Jared Velazquez had no idea what the rest of his life would be like.
The 17-year-old North Arlington High School senior, a top member of both the boys’ soccer and baseball teams at the school, was diagnosed last September with a rare kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis or FSGS. It’s a disease that attacks the tiny filtering units inside the kidneys where blood is cleaned. FSGS is the type of glomerular disease and scarring, also known as sclerosis that eventually renders the kidneys useless.
It’s a disease that is extremely rare among teenagers. Most FSGS patients are much older.
Velazquez’s diagnosis meant two things. In the short term, he had to endure hours of dialysis treatments in order to have any semblance of kidney function. In the long run, he was going to need kidney transplant surgery.
Velazquez waited patiently to see if a kidney had become available. A plea was made through Hackensack University Medical Center and local media to see if a suitable kidney could be obtained.
But September rolled into October and October became November. Christmas came and went and the New Year began. Young Jared was just about ready to give up hope.
In February, there was a premonition and some good news.
“I told my Mom (Lizette) to wake me at 6 a.m. because I think they had a kidney,” Velazquez said. “I told her we had to get ready. Every time I didn’t think I’d get it, I was in between. I said to myself, ‘This is probably not going to happen.’ But this one time, I was sure.”
A 24-year-old woman from southern New Jersey had a severe asthma attack that was apparently choking her. She was deprived of oxygen and declared brain dead.
“Her parents had to make the decision whether to donate her organs,” Jared Velazquez said. “I was actually No. 2 on the list.”
But Jared was brought into Hackensack University Medical Center to prepare for the transplant surgery. It was all in the matter of 18 hours.
“The night before the surgery, I was all nervous and anxious,” Jared Velazquez said. “I was also excited. I was thinking about it all night. I wondered how I was going to feel and what I was going to eat afterwards.”
Lizette Velazquez was stunned how it all came together.
“I was thankful and humble that it all happened so fast,” Lizette Velazquez said. “We had his bag packed for three weeks, ready for the call, ready to pick up and go. I didn’t want to show my emotions too much, because if it didn’t happen, I didn’t want my son to get too upset. We were all just praying. My aunt has become very close to Jared and she was praying. I just couldn’t go to work until I knew everything was going to be okay.”
Lizette works as a project manager for a pharmaceutical company, but her focus was on a possible transplant.
Dr. Michael Goldstein performed the transplant surgery at HUMC Feb. 12.
“I knew everything about the surgery, because I was studying it for five months,” Jared Velazquez said.
After the surgery, Jared said that he was a little under the weather.
“I was really tired and sleepy,” Jared Velazquez said. “I would then wake up and get nauseous. I was on a liquid diet before the surgery, so it wasn’t that tough. I was in the hospital for four days, but all I wanted to do was go home.”
A day after the surgery, Velazquez met with his doctors.
“They told me that everything worked,” Velazquez said. “It was like I had my own kidney again. It was working like it was mine. I felt so grateful. It wasn’t just me feeling hopeful. It was my entire family and friends. My teachers and coaches. Everyone supported me. Without them, I wouldn’t have felt brave enough to have the surgery, to stay strong for five months like that.”
Now, a month after the surgery, Jared Velazquez is recovering so well that doctors have given him the clearance to play baseball when practice begins in a few weeks.
“It’s definitely possible,” Jared Velazquez said. “My recovery process is six weeks from surgery. I’m not going to just walk out onto the field.”
Velazquez has been playing indoor soccer for Escuada FC, a soccer club in Wayne.
“I actually played for them when I was undergoing dialysis,” Velazquez said.
“The doctors are in awe with how fast he’s been recovering,” Lizette Velazquez said. “He’s done so well. He can stay still. He’s mentally strong. We are beyond overwhelmed. With the pandemic causing so much trouble, we never thought we would receive so much help. We’re so humbled by everyone’s love. It’s beyond words.”
Lizette Velazquez would like to personally thank North Arlington youth baseball coach Joe Witt, a family friend.
“We’re beyond grateful to Joe Witt and to the town,” Lizette Velazquez said.
Right now, it looks as if Velazquez will play baseball.
“That would be amazing,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to play. I never thought it was totally over, maybe just a halt in my career. I knew I was going to have to be able to play some sports.”
Velazquez said that he’s also thinking about playing soccer in college. He is thinking about Rutgers-Newark, Dean College and Becker College.
“I don’t even know how to describe how I’m feeling,” Jared Velazquez said. “Happy just doesn’t cover it. I’m blessed. I’m mostly grateful. I didn’t think it would all come this easily. I prayed every day. God heard my prayers.”
That He most certainly did.
North Arlington High School senior Jared Velazquez, shown here during soccer season, has undergone successful kidney transplant surgery, so much so that doctors are pretty sure he will resume his baseball career in two weeks. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”