DeSoto County man thankful he can continue annual charity holiday lights display after nearly losing his life

Local In MS

OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. (localmemphis.com) – On this night before Thanksgiving, one DeSoto county man says he is thankful to be alive. A year ago, he was clinging to life after a botched weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Every year, thousands of people visit Alexander Road in Olive Branch, Mississippi, to see a giant Christmas light display. But this year the display is different in many ways.

Tino Valenzuela spends most of November in the yard with his father-in-law setting up for their charity light display. For Valenzuela, just being here is a blessing.

“It’s been a long road but now that I’m back to normal, I feel great,” said Valenzuela.

Tino and his wife Laurie arrived in Mexico for weight loss surgery in September 2018. They chose Grandview Hospital in Tijuana to save money, but it nearly cost Tino his life.

Laurie’s surgery went fine, but complications landed Tino in the hospital as soon as he returned to the U.S. He spent the next six months in and out of two Memphis hospitals.

“We didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” said Valenzuela.

He couldn’t eat or drink anything for months. He got two life-threatening infections. In the end, a Memphis doctor performed the surgery that saved his life.

“My doc actually said there is no way possible except through the grace of God that I made it. I am not supposed to be here,” said Valenzuela. “They had to remove my complete stomach and 14 inches of my intestines because of everything that happened.”

Tino and his wife have lost more than 300 pounds combined since the surgery. They both say it was not worth the toll it took on their family. He lost his job, and they have mountains of medical debt.

Laurie still finds something to be thankful for. “We’re stronger now than we ever have been and that’s all that matters, and we’re here to keep pushing forward,” said Laurie Valenzuela.

Which brings us back to that holiday light display. For almost a decade, the couple called it “Bella’s Lights.” It benefited a child with brittle bone disease.

“We want to thank everyone for all the years we’ve been able to do the light show,” said Laurie Valenzuela.

This year, they’ve renamed it “Lights of Many Blessings.” The money collected from donations will go to a different family in need each year. 

“You don’t have to donate. Donations are welcome. We love them, but you don’t have to. You can just come see the lights and see the true reason for the season, which is Christ. Just pull up and listen,” said Tino Valenzuela.

The display is at 4360 Alexander Road in Olive Branch. It begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of the year. 

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