Kidney Swap Helps Families, Strangers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Three Long Island people who thought they would donate kidneys to loved ones end up giving it to complete strangers.

    Three kidney donors who set out to save the lives of loved ones ended up helping complete strangers in a unique three way kidney swap, according to officials at Long Island's North Shore University hospital.

    "Life works in strange ways, it really does," said kidney recipient Steve Michalik.

    Michalik, 64, of South Carolina, was diagnosed with kidney disease last September.  The one-time body builder and former Mr. Universe lost 40 pounds as the illness broke down his powerful body.

    Michalik, now a personal counselor, needed a transplant. A friend Michalik had once helped to lose 80 pounds stepped in to return the favor.

    "When it happened, there was no doubt. I wanted to help him," said Martin Andersen, via Skype, from his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    Around the same time, both Jacqueline Gonzalez of Hollis and Darlene Rawlins of Baldwin were also battling kidney disease.

    Gonzalez, a 46-year-old medical technician, and Rawlins, 54, a nurse, turned to family members for  kidney transplants.

    Gonzalez's son, Karl Jordan, pledged to help his mom, while Rawlins' daughter, Contrina Pettway, did the same.

    "She carried me for nine months. It was the least I could do," said Jordan.

    But in all three cases, the kidney transplants hit a roadblock.

    Doctors at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset discovered the donors' kidneys were not compatible with the recipients.

    "It was very disappointing," said Darlene Rawlins.

    But not unusual.  According to doctors, family members are often incompatible as kidney donors.

    But hope was not lost.  In a strange twist of fate, doctors discovered Jordan's kidney was compatible for Rawlins. Pettway's kidney worked for Michalik and Andersen's kidney was a match for Jacqueline Gonzalez.

    "God really works in mysterious ways," said Jordan.

    All six surgeries -- the kidney removals and transplants -- were done on the same day last month at North Shore University Hospital by a team led by doctor Ernesto Molmenti.

    "It was weird," said Contrina Pettway. "We were all in the same hospital, on the same floor and we had no idea."

    All the surgeries were successful, and the donors and recipients met for the first time at the hospital on Wednesday.

    "It's a wonderful human experience and one we wish we could duplicate every day," said Molmenti.

    Donors and recipients often never meet but hospital officials brought these six people together to encourage more organ donations.

    Right now, over 100,000 people are on waiting lists for organs, said Molmenti.

    "Organ donations are safe for all involved.  We hope more people will come forward to help."