The year of the kidney transplant: Two families’ stories of altruism in 2018

A Wall mom who received a kidney and a West Long Branch daughter who donated one reflect on a trend that is improving a lot of lives.

The results from the Asbury Park Santa Run show Angela Duffy finished in 1,224th place with a time of 43 minutes on Dec. 8.

Here’s one incredible statistic not shown: The Wall resident was six months removed from a kidney transplant.

“I forgot I even had it,” Duffy said. “It was my first 5K in a very long time.”

It was a big deal, not just for the 51-year-old mother of two, but for her entire family. Younger sister Amanda DiDonato donated a kidney to make sure Duffy could get one. They weren’t an exact match, but part of a chain known as a “paired exchange” — an increasingly popular transplant method that has opened the door for many folks on the waiting list.

“I can never repay my sister for the sacrifice she made,” Duffy said. “I come from a very selfless family, so I’m not surprised. It’s an amazing sacrifice she made because she loves me.”

RELATED: Old college football bond leads to kidney donation

WATCH : Transplant recipient meets organ donor’s family in video atop this story Laura Allen (right) with her dad Charles “Tom” Allen. Laura donated a kidney to her dad. Laura Allen (right) with her dad Charles “Tom” Allen. Laura donated a kidney to her dad. (Photo: Laura Allen) Charles “Tom” Allen knows the feeling. His daughter Laura Allen, a 29-year-old West Long Branch resident, gave him one of her kidneys in October — ending nearly two years of dreadful dialysis. A few weeks later Laura, a dietitian at Monmouth Medical Center and grad student at Rutgers University, aced her master’s thesis.

“If I had another one I could give, I would do it all over again,” she said.

In this column I frequently highlight good deeds, altruistic movements and the better angels of our nature. In 2018, more than any year I can remember, stories about kidney donors came into view. It’s a trend worth celebrating as we change calendars. ‘I’ll save one of these for you’

Tom Allen was born with one kidney.

“When I was younger, I always knew my dad had one kidney and I used to joke with him that, ‘I’ll save one of these for you,’” Laura Allen said. “When the time came, I didn’t give him the option.”

Through Nov. 30, this year was on pace to shatter the U.S. record for kidney transplants. That record was set in 2017 (19,849), which broke the record set in 2016 (19,060), which broke the record set in 2015 (17,878). You get the idea; over the past 25 years the number of kidney transplants in America has doubled. Laura Allen (right) with her dad Charles “Tom” Allen Laura Allen (right) with her dad Charles “Tom” Allen (Photo: Laura Allen) The ideal kidney comes from a living donor rather than a deceased one. The number of living donors has fluctuated through the years, but in 2018 that number projects to exceed 6,000 for the first time since 2010.

Remarkably, the surgery was Laura Allen’s first of any kind. She was out of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in three days. The only remnant was a small incision. Oh, and a grateful father.

“She’s a very giving, selfless person,” said Tom Allen, who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania. “I don’t know that I could ever repay her. I don’t know how you’d start.”

Laura Allen’s advice for prospective donors: Be patient. It’s a carefully layered process.

“It’s an organ donation, so that makes sense,” she said.

As for owing her dad something? She won’t hear of it.

“He is so absolutely deserving,” she said. “I just want him to be around and healthy as long as possible. That’s all that matters to me.” ‘It changed my life’

As a kid, Angela Duffy’s kidneys were damaged by a nasty case of strep throat. Several years ago her sister Amanda offered to donate, but they weren’t a match. Life rolled on, Angela began raising two boys and she put off the inevitable. Last year, though, her need for a transplant became obvious.

Fortunately, the field of kidney transplants evolved. Paired exchanges transformed from pilot program to commonplace. DiDonato works in Seton Hall University’s athletics department, where she is associate director of academic support for student-athletes. She picked the brain of colleague Matt Geibel, who had participated in a paired exchange chain a few years back to help his brother get a kidney. Amanda DiDonato (left) with her sister Angela Duffy. Amanda donated a kidney so Angela could receive one as part of a donation chain. Amanda DiDonato (left) with her sister Angela Duffy. Amanda donated a kidney so Angela could receive one as part of a donation chain. (Photo: Amanda DiDonato) On May 31, Duffy got a kidney from a living donor. A week later, one of DiDonato’s kidneys went to someone else in need.

“It really was amazing, knowing that someone in the chain did that for my family and I could do it for someone else’s family,” DiDonato said. “It changed my life.”

Organ donation is a deeply personal choice, but all four principals in this column were eager to share their story — as are many who have walked in their shoes.

“I tell people all the time, please consider it. It’s an amazing thing,” Duffy said. “I don’t think people realize you don’t need two kidneys. You can actually live on one.”

Not just live. You can thrive.

In a nice little flourish, Duffy entered the Asbury Park Santa Run with her 9-year-old son Jack. She raised her arms at the finish line, a triumphant gesture for an entire family.

“She’s doing great,” her sister Amanda said. “She feels like she can fly now.”

Carino’s Corner appears Mondays in the Asbury Park Press. Contact Jerry at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

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