Man uses battle to warn about excessive drinking

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jose Calderon, right, reaches out to his daughter, Cambria, 4, and his wife, Mandy, at their home in Huntingburg on Wednesday. Jose has liver and kidney failure and a fundraiser benefit is planned for Saturday to help cover his medical expenses.


Jose Calderon wants to bring awareness to the dangers of alcoholism.

Some people can have one or two drinks and be fine. But some people just can’t stop, he said.

“And that’s the difference,” he said. “One is a social thing, and the other is a disease.”

He is living out the effects of the disease. The 33-year-old Huntingburg man is now battling cirrhosis and is on medication to try and save his liver and kidneys.

Jose didn’t think he was an alcoholic. He and his wife, Mandy, were doing fine taking care of their household and five daughters.

“I wasn’t out in the bars. I wasn’t getting in trouble,” he said. “I was sitting at home having my cocktails. We’re still paying our bills. We’re still going to work. So I felt like it wasn’t that big of an issue. I felt like I wasn’t really an alcoholic.

“Now, I realize how dangerous this is.”

That realization really hit home in February, when his best friend, who had cirrhosis, died. Jose decided to stop drinking, cold turkey.

But he took the death very hard. “He was my brother pretty much,” Jose said.

At one point, he was visiting his friend’s grave daily.

“And I was just getting more and more depressed,” Jose said. “I spiraled, and got back on it [drinking].”

Jose Calderon gives himself an injection as part of a clinical trial for a new drug for liver failure while his daughter, Scarlett, 5, helps him pinch his arm at their home in Huntingburg on Wednesday.

But he got back on the wagon and again committed to stop drinking. And he has stuck to it. “I had to stop,” he said.

It was mid-spring when Jose noticed that he wasn’t feeling good. “I was lethargic,” he said. “I went from 260 to 180 pounds. I wasn’t eating. I felt like something was wrong with my body.”

And then in June, Jose had six seizures within two weeks. “I was waking up [at home] on the floor,” he said, “or on the front lawn with a black eye because I hit a rock or something.”

He looked up information and found out that it was likely the result of quitting cold turkey. So family and friends encouraged him to go to the hospital get a proper and safe detox. He went to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center at the end of June. By then, his weight had increased 220 pounds and his stomach was big. But he wasn’t eating.

“I had shortness of breath, I couldn’t breathe and I was having trouble walking,” Jose said. “I felt like a toddler.”

Memorial ran some tests, and then transferred him to Deaconess Gateway Hospital in Newburgh. At Deaconess, doctors told Jose that he has cirrhosis and his liver and kidneys are failing.

“That was a big hit,” Jose said. “It was an eye opener, because I was sober for over a month and a half or so.“

He found out that the extra weight was actually fluid that his liver was not draining. “It was just collecting around my organs and pushing my lungs up.”

He was immediately put on medication for his liver and kidneys. And he stayed at the hospital for about a week.

The plan was to drain the fluid that was inside him, which is called tapping. But that didn’t happen. “They were keeping me comfortable with painkillers and medicine to keep my liver and kidneys functioning,” Jose said. The hospital sent him home after a week.

He still had a lot of fluid inside him, so being at home was hard on his body. “I was in pain, to where I wasn’t even getting sleep,” Jose recalled. “I was hallucinating. I’d forget my daughters’ names.”

Jose Calderon receives help getting up from his wife, Mandy, at their home in Huntingburg on Wednesday. Jose experiences extreme exhaustion and fatigue from his liver and kidney failure. “I feel like a burden,” Jose said. “People keep telling me to ‘focus on yourself,’ ” he said.

And all of this was messing with his state of mind as well.

After watching him endure the pain for about a week, Mandy called Deaconess. But because he did not have insurance, he could not go there. But Mandy kept calling different hospitals. Finally, she took Jose back to Memorial Hospital. The hospital sent him IU Methodist in Indianapolis.

“That turned out to be the best thing ever,” Jose said. “They had 14 liver specialists on me every day. They were giving me fluids for my kidneys, fluids for my body, fluids for my liver. They were checking up on me every two hours.” He was on a strict diet to limit his sodium. But he couldn’t see his family at the time.

Jose was also tapped at IU Methodist, and three containers of fluid were removed from his left side; each container held three liters. The following day, “it was like night and day. I could talk,” Jose said. “My wife FaceTimed me and she said, ‘I can actually understand you.’ I could finally breathe again. I didn’t feel like I was asthmatic.”

Last week, his right side was tapped, and they removed three liters of fluid.

“After they tapped me the last time in Indianapolis, I was feeling really good,” Jose said. “They let me walk around the hospital so I could get some muscles in my legs back.”

While he was in the hospital, he remembered his best friend being in the hospital.

“To see him at the end like that, so weak and fragile,” Jose said. “I felt the same way when they said they were going to move me to the ICU. I said, that’s it then. Because that’s what happened to him. They moved him to the ICU and next then you know, he’s gone.”

He was concerned he wouldn’t be able to see Mandy and his daughters — Aylah Lamkin, 14, Taryn Lamkin, 12, Lilly Lamkin, 9, Scarlett Calderon, 5, and Cambria, 4 — again.

That messed with him mentally. “I would just cry,” he said, “thinking about my children and not being able to see them, because they couldn’t come to the hospital because of COVID.”

Jose didn’t tell anyone what was going on. He chose to keep it within his immediate family.

“I knew I did it to myself. I knew it was my fault,” he said. “So I was going to deal with it.”

And though he wasn’t really a praying person, he said he started praying, every night.

But Mandy asked for her friends and loved ones to also pray for Jose. And that is when friends started reaching out and learned what was going on. They went into action. Some of his high school friends set up a GoFundMe page. Family pizza nights were held. And many friends and family members are reaching out to help where they can.

“People started coming out of woodwork,” Jose said. “And it’s hard accepting money. You’re supposed to be able to support your own family, you know?”

One of his liver specialists at IU told him that his kidneys were getting better and the fluid taken was not infected. But Jose’s liver is very damaged, and he may eventually need a transplant.

But then he was told of a trial for a new drug that needed one more person. The results of the drug seemed to be effective, but it was still being tested. And they asked Jose if he wanted to be a part of the trial.

“I was a little hesitant,” he said, “because of possible side effects, you just don’t know. And it’s brand new.” But he decided to try the new drug, which was incorporated with his regular medication.

The regular medicine slows down the liver damage, “but, you know, most likely Iwould still need a liver transplant,” Jose said. “And with this trial medicine, it slows down the damage faster, it helps to heal it faster, and there’s a way less percentage chance you would even need a transplant.”

Jose stayed at IU Methodist more than a month. He returned home Tuesday.

Jose now has Medicaid to help. And his unemployment went through recently, something that he filed for back in the spring.

But things are still challenging. And he’s had to be very careful when he’s home. “I’m not 100% by any means,” he said. “It’s going to be a long journey.”

He has to make sure he walks, but not more than an hour. He gives himself shots. His feet must must be elevated so that they don’t swell. “The fluid goes down to my legs and then I elevate them,” he said, “and I guess it goes right back up to my stomach area and lung area.” And he is still going to the hospital for checks; he went to a hospital in Bloomington this week.

But he is grateful, nevertheless. He is especially grateful for the support he and his family have gotten from others.

“The outpour of support has been overwhelming,” he said.

He hopes that by sharing his ordeal, others will learn the devastating affects of excessive drinking.

“If you can’t stop yourself until all the alcohol is gone, then don’t do it,” he said. “If you feel like you have to finish it all, you can’t just leave it for later or another day, then you probably have a problem. And eventually, that problem becomes a major problem, once the organs start failing in your own body and starts killing you.”

He is now fine with not having any alcohol.

“I know if I go back to it and take one. It’s gonna kill me. So I’m not going back,” he said, “Which is a OK with me, as long as I can see my kids graduate, go to prom, get married, all that good stuff that I don’t want to miss out on.”

Friends and family of Jose are raising money to help him and his family with medical expenses.

On Saturday, they will be at the main shelter house at Huntingburg City Park selling pupusas, tamales and tacos, ‪starting at 7:30 a.m.‬ until the food is gone. Other items like baked goods and Halloween treat bags will also be sold.

Friends have also set up a GoFundMe acccount. Click here.

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