During Organ Donation Shortage, Three Recipients Share Their Stories – About Your Online Magazine


Father Jim Cunningham (left) says that the kidney he received from his friend, firefighter Patrick Nash, was “a gift for which I can never thank you enough”. (Photo: Courtesy of Father Jim Cunningham)

WINDSOR TERRACE – The number of people willing to donate their organs to save a life has plummeted at the age of COVID-19, according to medical experts.

United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the non profit organization who manages the country’s organ transplant system for the U.S. government, reported that donations from living donors have decreased by 90 percent since March. The availability of organs from deceased donors fell by almost 50 percent during the same period. Transplanted patients generally have greater longevity when receiving organs from living donors.

Although the number of donors has decreased, the need for organs shows no signs of decreasing.

According US Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 109,000 patients were on the national transplant waiting list in September. It is estimated that 17 people die every day waiting for a transplant, according to information on the HRSA website.

This news makes Father Jim Cunningham sad. Father Cunningham, the associate pastor of the St. Francis de Sales parish, Belle Harbor, is one of the lucky ones.

He received a kidney transplant almost five years ago. Your advice to potential donors? “If you can help someone in need, help,” he told The Tablet.

Father Cunningham’s journey began when he went to the doctor for help with his hypertension. The doctor recommended that he see a nephrologist. The nephrologist said he would need dialysis because he had kidney disease. The news was shocking to him because it was so sudden. It was one, two, three ”, he recalled.

“I was on dialysis for a period of time,” he said.

Father Cunningham is one of four children. His brothers came forward to try to help him. One of his brothers turned out to be a good partner and a transplant was planned. But when the brother underwent a test to prepare for a transplant, a cancerous tumor was discovered in his bladder. He survived cancer. The family realized it was a fluke. The tumor probably would not have been found without the test.

Parishioners at his church offered to be tested to see if they were a match for Father Cunningham. “I didn’t ask them,” he said, still looking moved by his generosity.

That’s when a friend of yours, fireman Patrick Nash, offered his kidney without Father Cunningham asking. “I would never ask anyone. It is a difficult question, ”he said.

“It turned out to be a perfect match,” said Father Cunningham.

Father Cunningham and firefighter Nash were close friends of late firefighter Timothy Stackpole, one of 343 FDNY members killed on 9/11. Father Cunningham said that he and firefighter Nash firmly believe that firefighter Stackpole helped with the transplant from heaven.

The transplant took place on March 9, 2016. “He gave me a gift that I can never thank him enough for,” said Father Cunningham of firefighter Nash.

Father Cunningham gave his friend a special gift – in a way. At a party held to celebrate Father Cunningham’s successful transplant, firefighter Nash met his wife. Father Cunningham officiated at the wedding.

He is one of three people from the Brooklyn Diocese who spoke to The Tablet about the experiences of their kidney transplant recipients.

Father Henry Torres, parish vicar of the Church of São Sebastião, in Woodside, suffered from FSGS since he was 11 years old.

“It is an autoimmune disease. You are born with this, ”he said.

Father Torres had two transplants. The first was in 2006. Initially it was successful, but the kidney donated by his mother Margarita started to fail in five years. Father Torres had to undergo dialysis.

“When you have a functioning kidney and are on dialysis, you depend on a machine to have some quality of life appearance. You have to plan everything, ”he said.

Father Torres had a second chance when he received a kidney from a deceased person. This transplant took place in 2012. Eight years later, the transplanted kidney is still functioning.

“I feel great,” said Father Torres.

He encourages people to consider organ donation. “I think that everyone who can be a donor should be a donor. If you donate, nothing changes in your life. You can still live a normal life, ”he said.

Jerry Kassar, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, said the kidney he received from a friend dramatically improved his quality of life.

“In my case, it made all the difference,” he said.

Kassar, a parishioner at St. Ephrem’s Church, Dyker Heights, suffered from kidney disease for several years and finally went on dialysis.

“For many people, dialysis is four days a week – three hours a day. It can seriously damage your quality of life, ”he said.

Your kidney was donated by a friend of yours who asked to remain anonymous. The donor didn’t even tell his family. The operation took place at Mount Sinai Medical Center on September 27, 2017.

A transplant “essentially allows you to live a normal life,” said Kassar. “I am very blessed to have this,” he added.

Like Father Cunningham and Father Torres, Kassar is eager to encourage people to donate their organs, if they can. “There is really a great need in times like these,” said Kassar.

Paula Fonseca