1. Home
  2. Learn About Donation
  3. Life Stories
  4. Boxing Trainer Winds Up in the Fight of His Life

Boxing Trainer Winds Up in the Fight of His Life

Angelo and a woman sit in a booth together, arms around each other, smiling at the camera.
Liver Recipient
“I’m grateful to be alive. Every day is a gift.”

As a professional boxing and fight trainer, Angelo knows a thing or two about preparing for battle. But the Nevada resident’s biggest fight came out of nowhere, and hit him like a fierce, quick jab, knocking Angelo on his back.

That punch came in the form of end-stage liver failure, a diagnosis he received after his son and life partner rushed him to the hospital with burning fever and uncontrollable shaking one summer day.

Tests revealed Angelo had full-blown cirrhosis of the liver as a result of uncontrolled chronic hepatitis B, and he was dangerously close to lapsing into a coma. Doctors said they’d try to “keep me comfortable” and search for a transplant center that would take him. He was told he had 30 days to live without a new liver.

Angelo had no clue he was born with chronic hepatitis B, the condition that led to his life and death fight. Hepatitis B is common worldwide, especially in Asia and the Pacific Islands. In the United States, hepatitis B disproportionately affects Asian American adults, who comprise 6% of the U.S. population. Yet, they account for more than 60% of Americans living with the disease. Two thirds of Asian American adults with hepatitis B are unaware they have it.

The condition can lead to serious health problems, including cancer and liver failure. Yet, there were no telltale signs Angelo was even sick in the weeks before he was hospitalized. He says, only that he felt tired and someone mentioned his eyes appeared yellow. Both were easy to pass off.

“Part of that is upbringing,” Angelo says. “Being Filipino, a lot of us don’t like to go to doctors. Then you combine that with the fact of growing up in martial arts and toughing things out in a very combative-style sport, you just kind of grit things out. So what if you’re a little tired.”

Angelo had good reason to pass off feeling drained. In the previous year, his teenage son had his 10th heart surgery as a result of a congenital heart defect and his life partner was diagnosed with and battled cancer. Then there was the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the hospital, Angelo grew weaker but remained hopeful. “I didn’t want to show my son that his dad is going to give up and I didn’t want to show my life partner who had just battled cancer.” But his medical team was having a hard time finding a transplant hospital that would take him. Days dragged by and Angelo grew weaker. News came after nearly two weeks that a transplant hospital in Southern California and a group of nonprofit doctors were willing to take on his case.

The doctors managed to get Angelo to the top of the transplant waiting list with his condition. And to the surprise of everyone, a donor’s liver was a match. He would receive his new organ just in time.

Angelo remembers waking up and seeing his mother, brother, and other family members. “I’m grateful to be alive. Every day is a gift.

 Angelo often thinks of his 19-year-old donor and the young man’s family, who he has yet to meet. He considers writing to them but wants to do so much more to show he is worthy of their son’s liver.

Because he was at death’s door, Angelo’s recovery has been slower than he hoped, including the need to be isolated for the first year after surgery. He is coming to grips with not being able to get back into professional sports “in the capacity I was in.”

Still, Angelo seems to be making up for lost time in many other ways, including being appreciative of each and every encounter and conversation he has, living in the moment and advocating about the importance of Asian Americans getting tested for hepatitis B.

“If you were born in the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, China, parts of the Middle East, you likely have chronic hepatitis B and you most likely don’t know it,” he says. “Go get a hepatitis panel on your next blood work.”

You can save or improve the life of someone in need of a transplant. Sign up as an organ, eye, and tissue donor.

Search Stories