El Puma wants to raise awareness about organ donation after miracle surgery saves his life

Venezuelan superstar struggled with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis for 14 years

By Louis Aguirre - Anchor/Reporter

MIAMI - Venezuelan superstar Jose Luis Rodriguez has never felt more alive.

"It's like I came from death to life. It's a real miracle," he said. 

It's been six months since Rodriguez, known around the world as El Puma, was given a new lease on life at age 75. 

"Thank God, I'm breathing," he said. "Thanks for the air. Thanks for the water. Thanks for the food. Wow."

El Puma's heart is filled with gratitude. For 14 years, he struggled with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis -- a condition that caused his lungs to progressively scar and left him gasping for breath.

"I was really desperate," he said. "You know, every day, fighting to breathe. Wow. It was too hard, man. Too hard."

El Puma's only hope for life was a risky double lung transplant.

"Did you ever think during that moment that that breath could be your last?" Local 10's Louis Aguirre asked.

"Yeah. You don't know when you're going to die. That day or the next day," Rodriguez said. "I thought, 'Well, if I died this way, I don't want to die in this situation that I have. Give me another chance. Give me another chance. Please. I beg you to rectify my former life.'"

El Puma would get that chance.  After waiting a year, the singer was finally put on the organ transplant list in August, and in December, he got the call that a donor had at last been found.

He was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Miami Transplant Institute, where Dr. Matthais Loebe performed the surgery. 

"It's very inspiring to help somebody like him, to get back and spread the message that he so desperately wants to spread," Loebe said.

"I feel more sensitive," Rodriguez said after his surgery. "I cry for many things that I didn't cry before. I don't know why, but spiritually, I changed. Because, I was so cold. I protect(ed) myself for many years, and now I realize, no, life isn't like that.

"Life is special. To love. To serve. To give. Life for me now is another thing. I changed. I changed."

El Puma said he's been reborn and now wants to dedicate his life to spreading the word about the importance of being an organ donor.

"What I want to do is (have) the people (see) what happened to me, the miracle of what God did to me through these guys," he said. "There is hope for those people who are waiting for lungs for others. That's why I ask them to be aware of the donation of organs.

"Just one person can save the life of 10 persons -- 10." 

The recovery process has been slow. El Puma has had to almost relearn how to breathe again with his new lungs. But on the day before this interview, he finally sang again. 

"Yesterday, I feel happy. But I know it's not 100 percent. It's 20 percent, 10 percent," Rodriguez said. "But I have faith that my voice is coming now, little by little." 

El Puma said he definitely plans to take the stage again, and Loebe said he'll be there to bear witness. 

It's a show El Puma vows to make happen not just for him, but for his fans around the world.

"Thank you for the love that you send me. All of you," he said. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank God for all of you. From Argentina to Spain, thank you."

El Puma said he now wants to take advantage of his second chance at life.

"This is the last opportunity. I know that. I have to take advantage of that," he said. "And I want the people to see what God did to me. I want to testify about this miracle. It's real. The Holy Spirit is real. I felt it."

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