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"I didn't know how far gone I was," declares Freddy Fender.
The veteran singer is reflecting on the days before liver transplant surgery saved his life in January. He didn't realize just how much danger he was in - even though other people did.
"As I understand, my wife had more knowledge of how down I was goin' - and how fast I was goin'," says the Tex-Mex superstar who hit the charts in the '70s with "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."
"I don't believe the doctors wanted to tell me everything because they didn't want me to feel horrible about it," adds Freddy. "Which I would've."
Freddy's 66-year-old liver had been deteriorating steadily for some time. The effects of diabetes, cirrhosis, hepatitis and cancer, found not long before his surgery, had taken their toll. He estimates that he might have lived only two months if the transplant hadn't happened when it did.
Oddly enough, it was the cancer that may have saved Freddy's life. It's the reason his name was moved to near the top of the organ recipient list. On New Year's Eve, Freddy received the call telling him a donor liver had been found. He spent New Year's Day traveling to the hospital in San Antonio for the highly complex surgery the next morning.
The liver surgery wasn't Freddy's first organ transplant operation. In 2002, he received a lifesaving kidney donated by his daughter, Marla, 23. That surgery was a complete success. In fact, Freddy was well enough to attend the Grammy Awards less than a month later. Not only did he attend - he won the Best Latin Pop Album award for his CD, La Musica de Baldemar Huerta. He added that trophy to other Grammys he won in the '90s as part of the critically acclaimed country group the Texas Tornadoes and also Los Super Seven.
But the thrill of winning awards can't hold a candle to getting a new lease on life. Freddy can't hide the smile on his face as he talks about how great he's feeling now.
"The doctors keep a monitor on you every two months or so," he explains. "The last test I had, the doctor told me, 'Your kidney and your liver love you a lot!' because all the tests came out great. They're just functioning like I was born with them."
Since the surgery, Freddy has picked up weight and regained his "chocolate-skinned Mexican look," after appearing pretty "ashy" before the transplant. Freddy's even feeling well enough to hit the road again. His first show since the surgery was in March - and already he's booked until May. Still, he's looking forward to doing more. "We'll fill out those empty dates!" he chuckles. "Then ... back to the salt mine, Freddy Fender!"
He's just as excited about his new CD.
"I'm about to do a project with the Morales brothers, Ron and Miguel," says Freddy. "They produced the last one that got me a Grammy in 2002. So get ready for another one in the same vein. It's beautiful, and I'm nearly ready to put the final vocals down. Believe me, it's gonna be real pleasing to the ear."
As Freddy pauses a moment to gather his thoughts, it's clear he couldn't be more grateful for his own good fortune.
"Yes, I'm very lucky," he admits. "I was acquainted with at least one or two people who died waiting for an organ. That football player Walter Payton, his liver was so badly gone that they couldn't help him at all.
"But just to wake up in the morning, man. I mean, a lot of people don't wake up in the morning. We just don't appreciate how lucky we are because we really don't understand how thin the ice is that we're walkin' on.
"I guess the fun of it is just to keep a big smile on your face and act like it's a big surprise when anything happens. Because you have to have a smile if you want to keep on going!"
-- David Scarlett