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Rich Hill man celebrates Father’s Day with dad’s kidney

Richmond Hill father Ronald Burke (l.) stands with the family to celebrate the full recovery of his son Leonard (r.) after his second kidney transplant. Photo by Phil Corso
Dr. Ernesto Molmenti (l.) shares a laugh with Leonard Burke's wife and first kidney donor Rhonda (c.), seen holding baby Isabel, and father Ronald, who donated for his son's second transplant. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

Leonard Burke, of Richmond Hill, spent his first Father’s Day on the heels of his second kidney transplant. This time, it was his own father’s kidney keeping him alive.

“This is one of the best gifts I will ever get,” Burke said. “I think all of us have something to celebrate this Father’s Day.”

Burke underwent his first kidney transplant in 2010, thanks to his wife Rhonda, who doctors said was a perfect match. The couple came together to cure Burke’s kidney failure due to hypertension so they could start a family on a healthy note.

But after a few years, and the birth of now-18-month-old Isabel, the Richmond Hill couple learned that the transplanted kidney was also failing.

“I was shocked in a way,” Burke said. “I didn’t feel sick. It just happened. I said we just have to do what we have to do in the meantime.”

Burke’s father Ronald quickly volunteered himself as a donor and went under the knife for his son June 3.

“You could tell what he was thinking. You don’t think twice about these things,” Leonard Burke said about his father’s conviction to donate. “I would do the same thing for my daughter.”

Less than three weeks later, both he and his son were out of the hospital and ready to celebrate a Father’s Day they will never forget.

“There was nothing really to think about,” Ronald Burke said. “If you are a father with a big heart, it is a no-brainer.”

Both Leonard Burke and his father stayed at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, L.I., for only three days before returning to their two-family house in Richmond Hill.

It was a rare and fortunate outcome for the Burke family to find two perfect donors so quickly, surgeon Dr. Ernesto Molmenti said, with average waiting times for new kidneys ranging anywhere from three to five years depending on blood type.

“Some matches are made in heaven. This is something I have never seen before,” Molmenti said. “You never know who will be able to donate.”

Nevertheless, the Burke family was healing up just days before Father’s Day with humble plans of staying in, watching television and spending time together.

“This is going to be one of the best Father’s Days of my life,” Ronald Burke said Friday at the Manhasset North Shore-LIJ Health System health center. “It wasn’t scary. It was a wonderful thing.”

Leonard Burke said his secret to a speedy recovery came from maintaining an active and positive lifestyle. He kept in touch with his family throughout the procedure and tried not to stray from his regular life routines as much as possible.

“Being depressed isn’t really going to help,” he said. “The more you sit back and think, the more frustrated you will get.”

And now, Leonard and Rhonda Burke said they were healthy and happy, looking ahead to their 11th anniversary next month.

“We have so many special gifts to celebrate in our lives,” Rhonda Burke said. “Now every day is Father’s Day for us.”

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

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