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Donated kidney gives Bayside man new lease on life

Tommy Chang tells the story of his February kidney transplant after a nine-year wait. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Bayside’s Tommy Chang spoke from the heart when remembering his kidney transplant after waiting almost nine years for the procedure.

“I don’t know who donated his or her organs, but I have to thank this person and all the other organ donors,” Chang said. “To this person and their family, I am truly grateful for my new life.”

Chang was one of three speakers personally affected by organ transplants who spoke last week to doctors, family and friends at North Shore University Hospital’s Rust Auditorium, at 300 Community Drive in Manhasset, L.I.

Their message coincided with North Shore-LIJ Health System’s annual Gift of Life campaign to highlight the important of organ donation.

The talk was followed by a yearly Gift of Life flag-raising outside the hospital.

“A kidney transplant really puts your life in a grateful new context,” Chang said, “one in which you feel blessed. Also, it gives you a new start to your life and a chance to accomplish something positive for yourself and those around you.”

Chang received a kidney transplant in February from a dead donor after nearly nine years of waiting.

Sharon Connelly was a resident of Laurelton when her 21-year-old son Gary was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver. On the day of his death, she said she made it a priority to make sure her son’s organs were donated. Parts of his body went on to help many others.

“My baby died that day,” Connelly said. “Yet he lives on not only in our hearts, but in the lives of the 75 individuals who were recipients of his organ and tissue donations.”

Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, the surgical director for North Shore University Hospital, said it took unique courage to sign up as an organ donor. He looked on with eyes full of empathy and thankfulness as the speakers told their stories.

“These people made a decision on behalf of themselves and their loved ones,” Molmenti said. “They decided to continue.”

Executive Director Susan Somerville said the speakers were a microcosm of what has made a greater difference on a larger scale. She said 38 organ donors from North Shore-LIJ hospitals resulted in 85 life-saving surgeries in 2011.

“We’re proud to report that efforts like these have had dramatic results,” Somerville said. “Donation is truly a gift of life.”

According to North Shore-LIJ, 8,500 New Yorkers are part of the nearly 110,000 people in the United States waiting for life-saving organ transplants. But New York state holds one of the lowest organ donor lists in the country, according to Donate Life.

In New York, more than 8,000 people are waiting for organ transplants. More than 6,000 of those patients await kidney transplants, Donate Life said. The state’s organ donor numbers have decreased nearly 18 percent since 2009.

President and CEO of the NY Organ Donor Network Helen Irving said someone in America dies every 2.5 hours waiting for an organ transplant.

“Everyone has an opportunity to save a life,” Irving said. “It takes love and compassion and, most of all, courage to be an organ donor.”

Chang said had it not been for his kidney donor’s generosity, he may never have received the help he needed.

“Dialysis is a tough way to live and really restricts your quality of life,” Chang said. “Receiving a transplant was like being given my life back.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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