Archives For Kidney


By Jim Morrison, The Patriot Ledger

Ben Johnston of Quincy, and his son, Oliver,at home.

QUINCY, Mass. — When a new father from Quincy read that his college buddy’s next-door neighbor in Brookline was ill and in desperate need of a kidney, he did what few people would even consider.

He volunteered to be tested to see if he was a match, our news partners at the Patriot Ledger reported.

He was.

Ben Johnston, a 32-year-old songwriting student at Berklee College of Music, decided he would donate a major organ to a total stranger.

The man who needed the kidney was Dr. Ferenc “Frank” Jolesz, 67, who was suffering from kidney failure for the second time. His daughter Marta Jolesz donated a kidney to him about seven years earlier.

“There’s a huge shortage of available organs and people are dying every day” Marta Jolesz, 37, said. “The average person is on the waiting list for five to 10 years. Most people don’t have that kind of time. My dad didn’t have that kind of time.”

The Brookline TAB profiled Jolesz and his efforts to find a donor via a website and Facebook last August.

“If the TAB wouldn’t have run the article, I wouldn’t have found out about it,” Johnston said.

“Basically, when I first read about it, I thought, ‘Oh, he’ll have no problem finding a donor,'” Johnston said. “Then, I thought if this person was my father or my father-in-law or someone I cared about, and he didn’t find a donor, I’d probably be angry.”

The idea got lodged in his mind and didn’t go away, and Johnston said he’s not sure why.

“I even waited a few days to tell (my wife),” said Johnston. “I thought it would go away, and it didn’t.”

Johnston’s wife, Heidi, is the pastor of the Faith Lutheran Church in Quincy. She had just started a new job and given birth to the couple’s son, Oliver, two months before. She was not enthusiastic about her husband undergoing a major elective surgery, so she spent about a week contemplating the decision, spiritually.

“Every week I stand up in the pulpit and ask people to step outside their comfort zone and care for people in need,” Heidi Johnston said. “I thought, ‘This is the opportunity that we’ve been given to do that,’ and I thought I should support Ben.”

Ben Johnston did some research and learned that most donors are back on their feet in a couple of months. Also, the hospital staff emphasized that he was free to change his mind at any stage of the testing, which took about two months.

Ben Johnston is composing a song about his organ-donation experience. This is the first verse of what is tentatively titled “Goodbye, Dear Kidney.”

After a third of a century, you up

and left me

Jumped right in to some other man

All my scars are still healing, and

I’ve got the feeling

I won’t be seeing you again

You left a hole deep within in me,

and I’m just beginning

To fill up the space the best that I can

And though sometimes I miss you,

the truth is I wish you

A long happy life with him

So goodbye, goodbye dear kidney

If I start to cry, if my tears don’t dry, forgive me

It’s hard to let you go, but in my heart I know

You’re better off without me

So goodbye, goodbye dear kidney

Heidi said she was with the Jolesz family while Ben and Frank were in the operating room, which was a great comfort. Ben’s surgery went very quickly.

“The kidney started perfusing (taking in blood) instantly,” said Heidi. “We were hugging and crying at Brigham and Women’s. That was incredible. That certainly bonds you. The daughters were in Ben’s hospital (room) rubbing his head and feet.

Jolesz wasn’t able to do a face-to-face interview because of the drugs he is taking to suppress his immune system, but he wrote in an email that he’s feeling much better.

“Ben gave me the gift of life, something that I almost lost,” Jolesz wrote. “Words are not enough to express my gratitude for Ben and Heidi’s selfless act of helping me. My hope is that what they did for me will motivate others to help those in need.”

Ben served two tours of duty in Iraq when he was an officer in the Army. His job was building bridges and other kinds of road construction. He said that he felt ambivalent about his work and the war in general, but donating a kidney was something he’d do again if he could.

It’s now just over two months after the operation and Ben said that except for the occasional pain at the incision, “I’m pretty much back to normal, and to me, that’s such a small amount of time to give someone a new lease on life. I would do it again.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. Heidi made me a scrapbook for Christmas, and I get emotional looking at the pictures and reading what his daughters wrote.”

Everybody interviewed for this story said that they hope it encourages more people to donate kidneys.

“Everything aligned for Ben and he was able to give the gift of life to my father and help our family,” said Marta Jolesz. “This journey has been truly unbelievable, and we feel so fortunate to find not only a donor, but a donor like Ben and his family.”


Whitman churchgoers had never met

Marc Vasconcellos/The Enterprise

WHITMAN, Mass. —The first time Michaelynn Kernan met Bill Healey they were in a waiting room at Tufts Medical Center.

Although the two had never met, Kernan recognized Healey from her parish, Holy Ghost Church in Whitman.

“Hey, I think I have something you want,” said Kernan as she introduced herself.

She was at Tufts that day to find out if she was a suitable match to donate a kidney to Healey, news partner The Enterprise reports.

Two years ago, Healey, who has been Holy Ghost’s music director for 25 years, thought he had come down with the flu. He wasn’t getting any better, however, and he had begun to feel tired all the time.

After a trip to the doctor’s office to have blood work done, he received a call from his wife.

“She said, ‘Get to South Shore (Hospital), you’re dying,’” Healey said.

After arriving at the hospital, Healey was given his diagnosis.

“I had extremely low anemia, which is the blood of a dead guy, and my kidneys were also failing,” Healey said. “I had no idea.”

After six months of blood treatment, Healey received a phone call informing him that he was being put on dialysis.

“For two years, I’ve been doing dialysis,” Healey said. “At first I didn’t like it, still don’t like it. But I’m still here. It beats the alternative.”

At first the treatment made him sick, but as a self-described fast healer, Healey was soon driving again and fulfilling his duties as music director.

Healey’s family was tested to see if any of them might be a potential match for a kidney donation. The older of his two sons was a perfect match.

However, during tests, doctors discovered two small stones in his son’s kidney, and asked him to be retested in six months.

Six months later when nothing had changed, doctors said they would be unable to accept him as a donor because there was a family history of kidney failure.

“I was actually happy,” said Healey, “but my son was furious because he really wanted to do that for his dad.”

With the option of a family donor off the table, Healey decided to wait for a cadaver. However, he was told that it could take six years for him to receive a donation that way.

A month later, Healey asked the Rev. Jason Makos, the church’s priest at the time, if he could run an item in the church’s weekly newsletter to see if anyone would be willing to become a living donor for him.

At the same time, Healey, who was a music teacher in the Avon school system for 38 years, decided to post a similar request on Facebook.

A few former students shared the post, and before long volunteers came pouring in.

“I ended up with about 60 responses from former students,” Healey said. “By the end of that week, Tufts had called me and told me they had seven candidates for a kidney: four from the parish and three former students.”

One of the candidates was Kernan, who had seen Healey’s request in the newsletter.

“I had a feeling when I saw it that I was going to pursue it, and I had a feeling I was going to be the one to do it,” Kernan said.

While most people might have hesitated to give a total stranger a kidney, for Kernan, it was a “natural thing” to do.

“I’m a hospice nurse, so I see people give up on dialysis all the time. I know how difficult that can be,” Kernan said. “I’ve seen people die of kidney failure, so this was an opportunity to see this end in a happy situation.”

In January, Healey and Kernan are scheduled for the five-hour surgery.

Although doctors still don’t know what caused Healey’s ailments, he remains upbeat about the transplant.

“I prefer to believe that it’s all going to be fine, as an optimist,” Healey said.

After the surgery, Kernan will be have a four- to six-week recovery while Healey is expecting a seven- to 12-week recovery period.

There is currently a fundraising effort to help defray Kernan’s medical and unpaid time during recovery.