A Family of Fighters: How The Tropia Family Stands Strong in the Face of Illness

Paolo and Stephanie Tropia’s lives once revolved around their family and their love of horses. As the owners of a boutique hunter jumper training and sales facility, Clear Round Show Jumpers, in Magnolia, Texas, the Tropias are no strangers to hard work. But, for the past several years, the Tropias have had to balance the labor of love of their family business with, quite literally, the fight for their lives. Diagnosed at age 43 Paolo was battling year two of kidney failure when his wife Stephanie was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. Despite every hardship life has thrown at them, the family has refused to give in and continues to fight each and every day in hopes of finding Paolo a much-needed kidney donation for the chance to regain their once normal, busy and rewarding lives. Phelps Sports sat down the resilient couple to share their story. 

The Foundation of a Family

Horses have been a part of the Tropia family’s foundation since day one when a horse shopping trip in Europe brought Paolo and Stephanie together. Stephanie happened upon Paolo’s place of employment to try a collection of horses for sale. Their connection was immediate, and it became clear that the two shared much more in common than their love of horses. 

“I really liked him from the beginning because he is a very quiet, nice, and super friendly guy,” reflected Stephanie. “I wanted to help him [at the farm], but he wouldn’t let me help. He was very polite. After that, there was a neighborhood party he was invited to and I joined him. We ended up talking until five in the morning, and neither of us even knew what time it was or how long we sat there enjoying each other’s company.”

After Stephanie returned to her new home-base in the United States, the couple nurtured their relationship long-distance for some time. Late-night phone calls and trips back and forth across continents eventually led to a big decision: Paolo packed up his bags to join Stephanie in the U.S. so the two could pursue a life together, and they were married just a year later. But Paolo was earning more than a wife with his new marriage; he was gaining a family. Previously married, Stephanie had a young daughter at the time, Dominique, who welcomed Paolo to the family with open arms. 

Paolo, Stephanie and their youngest daughter Aurelia

“Dominique and I were living alone in America when Paolo came, and after we got married, Dominique asked Paolo if he would adopt her because she wanted a father in her life, and she liked him. He said yes and legally adopted her.”

The Tropia family continued to grow with the addition of their now 14-year-old daughter Aurelia and the establishment of their 26-acre farm in Texas, Clear Round Show Jumpers. With a dedicated group of students, a steady influx of sale horses, and consistent results at horse shows, the Tropia family were living a picture-perfect life. 


Trading Horses for Hospital Rooms

It was during a yearly doctor’s appointment that the Tropia family’s world would be turned upside down. A routine test result revealed Paolo’s kidneys were only functioning at 25% capacity.

“As a child, Paolo was exposed to a childhood illness which the doctors believe is what caused his kidney failure,” shared Stephanie. “So, it wasn’t bad lifestyle decisions or anything else as an adult that caused it. And slowly, the kidney started functioning less and less. It was really a shock. We were told that he would maybe have another two years before he would need to get on dialysis. It was really tough to hear that.”

Paolo was able to hold out to that two-year mark, but in September of 2017, he had to begin the grueling process of dialysis. He started with hemodialysis, which required him to report to the dialysis center three times a week to receive the four-hour a day treatment. Eventually, Paolo was able to transfer to in-home dialysis, and while that improved his quality of life somewhat by reducing his time at the dialysis center, he was now required to perform dialysis every day, and he was extremely uncomfortable. Despite the discomfort, Paolo still reported to the barn each day to ride and help out as much as he could. 

Despite the seriousness of his condition, Paolo Tropia continued to work and ride to the best of his ability. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography

But as many people who struggle with kidney issues know, dialysis isn’t a long-term solution, and it can be an imperfect treatment, Stephanie shared. “It isn’t something that you can do forever and stay alive. It will destroy your organs. That is why you wait on a kidney donor —that is your only option.”

Paolo has been on the transplant list for three years now, and a loving member of their barn family stepped up to help the Tropia family by donating her own, but unfortunately, that hope was short-lived when it was discovered her kidneys were not viable for donation, so back to the transplant list they went.

And then, in 2019, the family received another blow: Stephanie was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. 

“I got the whole thing: the chemotherapy and the radiation,” said Stephanie. “After that, I had two operations, and then I had six more months of chemotherapy. Paolo worked through this the whole time, and I worked when I could. I had to help him. Only when I was in the hospital with the operations was I unable to help. Otherwise, while I was on chemo, I just didn’t give up. We are fighters. We just don’t give up.”

Cancer can’t hold Stephanie Tropia back! 

Because of the grueling nature of Stephanie’s cancer battle, Paolo temporarily took his name off of the organ transplant list so he could care for his wife and daughter, and uphold their business at the farm. Amazingly, one year later, Stephanie is now cancer-free and back to work, so Paolo has resumed his place on the transplant list. 

A Community Staple

Through all of the ups and downs, the Tropia family has worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy in the barn. With clients to cater to and sales horses to campaign on top of their regular daily barn chores, they established a balance that works for them. With the Great Southwest Equestrian Center just a short drive away, they are able to maintain a regular show schedule thanks to the year-round shows offered by Southbound Show Management. Patrick Rodes of SSM shared, “I have known and worked with the Tropia family for over 15 years. They have always been great to work with and always have a nice group of horses. It is a joy to see them at the shows! They are very hard workers and an asset to our industry.”

While community members have never-ending kind words to share about Paolo and Stephanie, it is their tight-knit barn family who shared the sweetest sentiments about their relationships with the Tropia family. Take Chris Arlitt. She has worked with the Tropia family for the past 14 years. Initially, her relationship with them began as horse-show-mom extraordinaire while her daughter rode and showed, but when her daughter transitioned out of the show ring, Stephanie encouraged Chris to take up riding for herself. When she first learned of Paolo’s diagnosis, she was shocked and felt the urge to better educate herself on his condition, but one thing she quickly understood is that he was not going to let this diagnosis hold him down.

“The thing with Paolo is that he never misses a beat,” Chris shared. “He is such a great person who cares about the people around him so much that he would never consider taking a sick day or anything. He works all the time. For example, we were in Santa Fe for a horse show, and he would literally have to go off in the pickup truck to do his dialysis. Morning, noon, and night, he would disappear for a while and do his dialysis so he could be at the show with all of us.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paolo did not let his condition keep him from being with the Clear Round Show Jumpers team at horse shows.

Another long-term member of the Clear Round Show Jumpers team is Linda Viens. Even after she and her husband retired and relocated to Montana, Linda was committed to her barn family in Texas, so her horses remain in the Tropia’s care, and she commutes back and forth on a regular basis to train. After over 15 years in their program, Linda has grown to love the Tropia family as her own and waits anxiously for the day that a compatible donor might come along.

“If a kidney was to be donated to Paolo, it would bring tears of joy to everyone at the barn,” Linda commented. “We have all been hoping and praying that he does not have to wait much longer. We all love the Tropia family. It has been unbelievable how strong and together the family has stayed through all that has happened to them these past few years. It would be such a gift. They could start thinking about the future and not worrying about each day and wondering what tomorrow will bring.”

Give a Kidney, Save a Life

Due to the seriousness of his condition and daily treatment, in addition to the worldwide concerns regarding COVID-19, the Tropia family’s life has been placed on somewhat of a hold. “We can’t go out to eat at night, we can’t go to the movies, we can’t go on vacation. Paolo’s mother passed away before the pandemic, and he couldn’t go to her funeral. The quality of life has really changed for the entire family, including my two daughters. I can’t go and visit my grandkids and my daughter in Georgia, and Aurelia doesn’t get to go anywhere, only to a camp next summer, maybe.”

The future for Paolo relies upon fate and a live kidney donation. Live kidney donors do not have to be an exact match to benefit the Tropia family, Stephanie explained. “If somebody is inspired to generously give a kidney in Paolo’s name, whether it is a match for him or not, it would help. If the kidney is not a match it would go in the kidney bank, and then Paolo’s name would be next on the list for the next available kidney that matches him. Unfortunately, kidney transplants from the deceased only last a few years, and then it starts all over again. But if a live donation was made, it can last from 25 years to a lifetime.”

A live kidney donation could give Paolo Tropia 25 years or more of life. Photo by Jerry Mohme Photography

According to UNOS, there are more than 100,000 people in America who are waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant. On average, the wait for a suitable transplant is around four years. However, the wait time varies on a case by case basis depending on the severity of each individual’s situation. Unfortunately, some patients never receive the kidney that they so critically need. A living donor would undergo an operation to remove and donate one of their two functioning kidneys. The procedure may be done laparoscopically in some cases, while other cases might require an open surgery. Most living donors can return to many normal daily functions within 2-4 weeks of the procedure, with most donors resuming normal physical activity in just 4-6 weeks post-operation. In most cases, organ donation is covered by the recipient’s health insurance, and there are organizations such as the National Living Donor Assistance Center, which helps recover additional costs for qualified donors that are not covered by insurance. 

Stephanie shared her thoughts, “The only option for him to get quality of life is a kidney, or he will slowly die by his other organs failing. It is a big fear. The stress, the huge impact on the family,our daughters, and on the business — it is scary. When is that kidney coming? Is a kidney even coming? It would be like a miracle. It would give us our life back. We wouldn’t have all the fear that is inside of us all the time. Every day you wake up and wonder how much longer he can do this? It is very painful to see your partner suffering. It would be a blessing if he would get that kidney — it would give him back his life.”

Paolo, who remained quiet for the majority of the interview despite a few bits of input here and there, drew a big smile across his face when the question was asked: What would receiving a kidney donation mean to you? 

“I can’t describe the feeling, how happy that would make me.”

As a community, equestrians are known for banding together to help one another out in trying times. Here is an opportunity to help a deserving family in our community enjoy many years with their husband, father, and trainer. If you are interested in learning more about kidney donation, we recommend utilizing one of the following resources:

If you are interested in connecting with the Tropia family, please email: md@phelpsmediagroup.com

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