OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - After learning about an East Bay educator’s life-threatening disease, the teacher’s former students are rallying behind her.
The past students say Marithess Rico changed their lives and they reached out to KTVU to share her story in hopes of getting her the help she needs.
At her Hayward home, Rico showed KTVU the machine she uses to undergo 10 hours of dialysis each day.
"These are the tubes that hook up to my stomach."
She says she was diagnosed with stage 5 chronic kidney disease just three months ago.
"I get weak. My energy is not as much as before," said Rico.
She says she has less than 10 percent function in her kidneys and doctors told her she needs to find a donor soon—hopefully within a year.
The only time she lost her smile was when she spoke about her greatest fears, "Not finding a match and continue [to not be able to continue] what I want to do."
Now her former students from Oakland Tech and Berkeley High, where Rico was director of a biotech program and encouraged many female students to learn science and math are helping her through her challenge.
"She's like my second mom she's like everything," said January Healy.
Healy says Rico helped put her on the right track at a time when she lost interest in school as a 15-year-old.
"[She was] there emotionally for me and actually [pushed] me to graduate. Without her, I wouldn't have taken my SAT's and gotten to a four-year private university almost on a full ride," said Healy.
Over the weekend, Healy and others raised $700 for Rico's expenses by holding a garage and bake sale.
They say their gratitude to Rico is boundless because her support for them knew no limits.
"She was kind of a super woman to me. She can do so much yet have so much in the background as well. She was definitely a role model," said Evanney Salisi, another former student of Rico's.
The young women started a website to help.: www.raisethelove.com.
"We all have testimonies on there. Letters about how she's impacted us," said Healy.
It also gives information about kidney disease to help find Rico a kidney donor.
"I'm still going to go on. I'm still going to support my students I’m still going to do what I need to do," said Rico.
She says her source of strength is knowing she's not alone. She has her students' support.