Chacon gives gift of life 

It’s not every son who can return the gift of life to his father.

Conductor Joe Chacon was able to do that by donating a kidney in September.

The elder Chacon, also named Joe, retired from the Belt 14 years ago. He was in a hospital bed for nine months in 2022, having suffered several severe ailments, including kidney failure and complications from surgeries. 

Watching his father struggle, the younger Chacon knew what he had to do.

“I said, ‘Dad, I want to give you my kidney,’” he said.

The elder Chacon initially protested.

“He was dead set against it,” the younger Chacon said. “It took time to convince him.”

The timeline involved in receiving another kidney as well as his dwindling health led him to accept the gift of life.

The Chacons were relieved when tests revealed they were a match. 

“It affected everyone,” the younger Chacon said. “Everyone stepped up.”

This includes his brothers, Fred and James, also current railroaders and former Belt employees.

When a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where the elder Chacon lives, was unable to accommodate a transplant surgery, his care was moved to Chicago. During that time, he lived with the younger Chacon in Indiana. The family was happy they were in the care of a renowned and pioneering surgeon. 

“Dad feels 100% better,” he said. “His health has turned completely around. He’s laughing and telling stories again. He thanked me, but that’s not what I was looking for. It was second nature. I’m so happy to see how much he’s changed.”

The younger Chacon said learning of the risks involved was daunting, but he always was committed to helping his father get better. He also considered a six-person kidney swap with strangers so that others could heal as well, but a plan to do so ultimately fell through due to another patient experiencing complications. 

The elder Chacon plans to travel and enjoy his retirement.

“Dad loved the railroad life. He always found time for his children,” the younger Chacon said.