Woman loses 74 pounds to save her nephew’s life

Brunella Gualerzi sorts parsley in her restaurant, ll Bistro Italiano. Gualerzi lost 74 pounds so she could donate a kidney to her nephew.

When Brunella Gualerzi learned she could save her beloved nephew’s life by donating one of her kidneys, there was little that would get in her way.

But there was a catch.

Gualerzi, the founder and owner of Il Bistro Italiano with her husband, Ron, learned from the surgeon that she would have to lose a lot of weight to offer the life-saving organ. What followed was a challenging 20 months in which she lost 74 pounds and successfully donated the organ. Her story is detailed in the August issue of the motivational magazine Guideposts.

“Everything I did was toward that goal,” Gualerzi said recently at her downtown Grand Junction restaurant. “Every day I wasn’t at the right weight, my nephew had one more day of dialysis.”

Gualerzi felt compelled to make life better for her nephew, Rossano, who lives in the northern Italy village where she was raised. Her nephew is only 10 years younger, and Gualerzi considers him to be the closest thing she has to a son.

It was always known that Rossano, who was born with Alport syndrome — a condition in which the kidneys slowly deteriorate — would someday need a kidney transplant. At age 32, one of his kidneys was low-functioning, and the other had a cyst, Gualerzi said.

Doctors at University Hospital of Parma in Italy ran tests on Gualerzi, and she was determined to be the only family member who made a perfect match for her nephew. But doctors refused to operate because her weight, 287 pounds, on her 5-foot 5-inch frame made the procedure too risky. Gualerzi vowed then to lose the necessary weight, although it appeared doctors and even family members didn’t believe she could pull it off.

“I told them I’ll be back,” Gualerzi said. “They said that’s OK, you don’t have to do it.”

After returning to Grand Junction, Gualerzi started a rigorous exercise routine, hiking up Colorado National Monument’s Serpents Trail nearly every day. She had always liked to hike, but day-to-day operations at the restaurant made free time scarce. She complemented her exercise by enrolling in a diet plan called OPTIFAST through St. Mary’s Hospital. A support network of friends and family encouraged her progress.

“My husband went on a diet himself, poor thing,” Gualerzi said.

Gualerzi then took a look at the restaurant’s menu and made small changes, such as reducing portion sizes and offering some lighter options sans the butter and cream bases linked to Italian cooking. She blogged about her progress on the restaurant’s website.

Last fall, after Gualerzi lost the weight, the doctor at first did not recognize her as the same woman who had been there a year and a half earlier.

Gualerzi had the procedure in November and spent six weeks recovering in Italy.

Gualerzi has since gained back some of the weight she lost, but she is working on losing that again.

Although the experience was “full of ups and downs,” she doesn’t regret the effort.

Mostly, Gualerzi hopes her story will inspire other living donors to give a kidney if the opportunity arises.

“It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s not that bad, either. You can save a life by giving one,” she said. “Seeing my nephew healthy is great. He has a normal life now.”


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