WTC responder spearheds three-way kidney transplant


WTC responder spearheds three-way kidney transplant


August 30, 2007

In January, John Feal was ready to give his kidney to a perfect stranger. But they weren’t a good match.

That bad news led to a series of events that will culminate this morning in a Manhattan hospital and potentially save not one life, but three.

The daisy chain started by Feal includes six surgeons who will conduct three simultaneous kidney transplants at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Feal, 40, of Nesconset, said he will give his kidney to a recipient, whose spouse will give a kidney to a second recipient, whose spouse will give a kidney to Paul Grossfeld. Grossfeld, 56, from New Jersey, was the intended recipient of Feal’s kidney, but Feal was a better match for someone else. So the chain, called paired donation, was established.

“I feel great,” Feal said Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve been training for a prizefight.”

There were 17,090 kidney transplants in the nation last year, according to the National Kidney Foundation, which does not tally the number of paired donations. But a foundation representative said that procedure is relatively new.

NewYork-Presbyterian confirmed the operations were scheduled to take place but would not identify any of the patients, citing strict patient confidentiality laws.

Feal heads the Fealgood Foundation, an organization that advocates for and gives financial assistance to 9/11 responders and workers who have fallen ill since working at Ground Zero.

Grossfeld, a former Queens resident, found Feal’s Web site last year while desperately searching for a donor. A former volunteer paramedic in North Massapequa who has suffered from kidney disease and diabetes for years, Grossfeld e-mailed Feal to ask whether he could post an appeal for a kidney to Feal’s Web site. He soon got a call back from Feal saying, “You got yourself a kidney.”

Grossfeld, appreciative of all Feal has done, said Wednesday, “It’s been a rough road.”

“I’m ready, though,” Grossfeld said. “I’m taking my last dialysis treatment right now.”

Feal, who was a consultant for Michael Moore’s health-care documentary film “Sicko,” began his efforts because of his own pain. Seven days after the terrorist attacks, Feal was working demolition at Ground Zero when an 8,000-pound steel beam fell on his left foot. A former Army veteran, Feal made a tourniquet out of his belt and yelled for help. Soon after treatment for the injury, gangrene set in and he lost half his foot.

As he began to recover, he decided his calling was to help other 9/11 responders and workers, including those with respiratory illnesses from working in the toxic environment.

Feal said his gift of life to an anonymous recipient is his way to shed light on all those responders and workers now in need of lung and kidney transplants themselves.

“I’m committed to 9/11 issues,” said Feal, who cites a 9/11 worker he knows who says he now needs a double-lung transplant. “The real reason I’m doing this is to spread awareness of the needs of 9/11 responders. If people on Long Island read this and sign their organ donor on their license, I’ve done my job.”

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

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