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Bayside man gives in-law new kidney, lease on life

After years of battling diabetes and enduring kidney dialysis, a Fresh Meadows man received the gift of life from his brother-in-law.

Last month, Charles Buckley donated his kidney to Yuri Poonwah, and to show his appreciation Poonwah and his wife Flo will hold a fund-raiser in her brother's honor July 13 at the American Martyrs Church in Bayside. The money will go toward Buckley's medical expenses.

"This is a miracle," his wife said. "It seems like it was meant to be."

Poonwah's need for a new kidney started 15 years ago, when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. For years, Poonwah, 46, controlled his diabetes with medication. But in 2007, at a doctor's appointment with his wife, he learned his kidneys were functioning at 5 percent. He needed to start dialysis and was placed on a kidney transplant list.

"It shocked and shook my world," Poonwah said about the diagnosis. "We were devastated."

Meanwhile, Buckley, a film and television actor, started to consider donating his kidney.

He cannot recall what first gave him the idea, but told Poonwah that if he was a match, he would donate.

The test came back, showing Buckley and Poonwah were a perfect match.

"I was thrilled and scared at the same time," Poonwah said.

Buckley also remembers being "full of fear" when the news came and he nearly changed his mind.

The idea of major surgery and giving up a kidney frightened him, but he also feared his insurance plan might drop him if he did the transplant.

Buckley sought the advice of two priests at the Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica, who guided him to his choice.

"I wanted to do it for him because he's such a good man," Buckley said.

The men had surgery May 22 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. The procedure was performed by specialists from the Rogosin Institute, a nonprofit treatment and research center that specializes in kidney transplants and dialysis.

Years before, while listening to talk radio in his home, Buckley had heard of the Rogosin Institute. He told his sister about the facility, but never imagined he would be a patient there himself one day.

Today, the men are recuperating at Poonwah's home in Fresh Meadows. Poonwah hopes to return to his work as a technician for Time Warner Cable soon.

"I hope to go back to work and start life over again," he said.

Poonwah said the transplant has strengthened the bond with his brother-in-law.

"A lot of people talk and talk and rarely come to the plate to bat," he said, "and Charlie came to the plate to bat."

The fund-raiser will be held at American Martyrs Church at 216-01 Union Turnpike in Bayside from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 13. Music, food, comedy and magic shows will be included.

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

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