Maria y Cien Grados Frontwoman Crowdsources for Kidney Transplant

Maria Villarreal-Fraga / Facebook

Maria Villarreal-Fraga needs a kidney transplant. Soon. 

The frontwoman of Maria y Cien Grados has been living with rapidly declining kidney function following complications from surgery in 2021. She recently began dialysis, and along with it, the arduous journey to a kidney transplant.

In addition to regular dialysis treatments to keep her alive, that journey includes seemingly endless testing, the uncertainty of finding a living donor (without which, she will likely spend years on the waiting list for a deceased donor) and significant financial constraints. 

Finding out that your health insurance may not cover a life-saving procedure or that you will have to come up with an astronomical amount of money to cover the deductible before it can even happen at all are some of the most heartbreaking and infuriating parts of healthcare in the US.

In May, she began crowdfunding to cover the costs of the deductible and other medical expenses she is facing on the road to transplant. Taking a cue from Lucky Joe’s controversial bus fundraiser earlier this year, she posted her CashApp handle: $Mariay100

She wrote that she has 5994 friends and followers and that while she doesn’t like asking, she pointed out that people “get help with crazier things so maybe my life is worth $1?”

To date, she has raised over $1000 toward her $10,000 goal and will be announcing more fundraisers soon. She will also have CD copies of a special-edition EP of her music available for sale in a few weeks. 

Maria y Cien Grados is a cumbia band that began in Austin and has continued gigging after moving back to her hometown of Victoria. In Austin’s small Tejano music scene, Maria won hearts with her positive attitude and kindness, often performing at benefits for fellow musicians and jamaicas in the area. 

Maria and her husband Jose both battled COVID in the summer of 2020, beating the disease when it was killing tens of thousands of people every day around the country. Their primary concern at the time was what would happen to their four teenage sons, who now range in age from 16 to 22. 

She is a survivor who has many years ahead of her if she can get the treatment she needs. Last weekend, even though she is on dialysis, she and the band performed in San Antonio. Various family and friends have stepped up to get screened to be donors, but have been denied for various reasons.

Her story resonated with me not only because I have known her personally for nearly a decade, but also because I’m a kidney donor myself. I donated to my partner, Rancho Alegre’s CEO/Head Queso, Baldomero Frank Cuellar in 2020. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I even told Maria that I would give her another one if I could.

Some fast facts about kidney transplants, from the National Kidney Foundation:

  • Over 100,000 people need a kidney transplant, but only 17,000 receive them each year.
  • 12 people die every day while waiting for a kidney transplant.  
  • A kidney from a living donor will last about 15-20 years, while a kidney from a deceased donor lasts about 7 to 10 years.
  • Living donors live normal healthy lives after donation and complications are rare – in many cases, donors focus more on their health to care for their remaining kidney.
  • Living donors do not have to be exact matches for their prospective recipients. Transplant centers can do paired exchanges or even multi-donor chains to ensure each recipient gets the best and most appropriate match.

Since 2000, kidney failure among Latinos has tripled. When we were sitting in the waiting room and attending orientation at the transplant hospital in San Antonio, almost everyone around us was Latino.

Risk factors for kidney failure include genetics, obesity, and heart disease, but the main causes are high blood pressure and diabetes, which often go hand in hand. Socioeconomic factors like poverty, poor diet, insufficient or lack of insurance, and access to proper healthcare often limits effective preventative care and coverage for serious or life-threatening conditions like kidney failure, infections, retinopathy, and more. Diabetes is an epidemic in the US, especially with Latinos, who are 70% more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime.

To inquire about becoming a kidney donor, either for Maria, a family member or friend, or even a total stranger, contact a transplant center near you or call a local kidney doctor.

To donate to Maria, her CashApp handle is $Mariay100, contact her on Facebook or email her at

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