New Jersey

NJ Firefighter With Kidney Disease Looking for New Donor After Wife’s Accident

What to Know

  • Firefighter Tim Zyla is looking for a kidney donor as he battles polycystic kidney disease, a genetic and degenerative disease
  • His wife is a perfect match for him but cannot donate her organs after a freak accident at the gym
  • His son Brandon also has his condition; Zyla wants to make sure one of his siblings can donate a kidney if his son needs it

For years, Tim Zyla has rushed to the help of perfect strangers, even putting his life at risk to help those he didn’t know.

And now, the former Fairfield, New Jersey, fire chief is holding out hope for his own as-of-yet unknown savior.

That’s because Zyla is battling a genetic and degenerative kidney condition and has less than 18 percent function of the vital organ -- and it’s getting worse by the day. And after a false start on a transplant from his wife, who is a perfect match to him but is now no longer healthy enough to donate an organ, he’s hoping that a good Samaritan can come through with a life-saving donation.

“It’s pretty urgent,” he said. “The clock is ticking, and it’s going pretty fast.”

Zyla, who is currently a firefighter with the West Caldwell Fire Department, suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a disorder where clusters of cysts develop on the kidneys and causing them to enlarge. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the cysts damage the kidneys as they continue to grow and slowly replace healthy tissue. That can reduce kidney function and lead to kidney failure.

Luckily, Zyla’s wife, Ann Marie, is a perfect match for blood and tissue type and they immediately began to plan for a transplant.

“It was actually overwhelming when I got that phone call,” said Anne Marie Zyla.

Tim Zyla laughed, “I guess I married Mrs. Right.”

But then, they had a heartbreaking setback. Anne Marie Zyla had a freak accident at the gym and tore two arteries in her neck. Now she’s a risk of stroke and can’t donate her kidney for now.

“It was like a punch in the gut,” she said. “We’re almost there. We’re jumping through hoop after hoop.”

The firefighter’s kids wanted to come to their dad’s rescue, but Zyla won’t ask them for a transplant. That’s because one of his three children, Brandon, has the same condition and may one day need the kidney from one of his siblings, Melissa and Ryan.

“It’s upsetting because, you know, it’s our father,” Brandon Zyla said. “We’re just hoping that everything will be fine at the end of the day.”

Tim Zyla said the current wait for a kidney is five to seven years, but he is hoping someone will help him sooner than that. Doctors said he doesn’t need a kidney immediately, and he could get dialysis if his condition deteriorates further. But the family said they hope it doesn’t come to that.

The firefighter said he hopes that he can make long enough to see his kids grow up.

“I’d like to walk them down the aisle,” he said.

If you are interested in seeing if you are a match for Tim Zyla, call St. Barnabas Hospital Living Donor Institute at 973-322-5346. 

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