Despite all manner of hazards, including a skidding tractor trailer, from the monster snowstorm, Melanie Chirichella of Bohemia received a new kidney on Saturday.
“Obviously, it was a miracle,” said daughter Dawn Chirichella, 40, of Holbrook. “I think it’s really giving my Mom a second chance at life and we are just so grateful, obviously, to the donor and their family.”
Her 64-year-old mother has waited 18 months for a kidney, her health declining despite three hours of dialysis three times a week.
Her odds were not promising; New York has one of the lowest U.S. donation registration rates, said Dawn Francisquini, senior transplant specialist at Stony Brook University Hospital.
On Friday, Delta airlines flew two kidneys from a middle-aged brain dead man to LaGuardia from South Carolina, though the snowstorm delayed the flight, Francisquini said.
Tests showed possible matches in New York, including six at Stony Brook, she said.
LiveOnNY, a Manhattan-based organ procurement group, tested them to ensure they were healthy and sent blood samples so hospitals could check compatibility, she said.
Stony Brook received the samples around 11:30 p.m. and by about 3:30 a.m. Saturday found Chirichella was a match.
But she was too frail to undertake the nearly 20 mile trip during the powerful snowstorm.
So Dr. Frank Darras, clinical director of the Stony Brook renal transplantation program, turned to paramedic Pete Amato, 48, of Medford, who braved the storm — and other drivers — in a four-wheel drive Ford Expedition.
On Nicolls Road, where the hospital is located, “I was almost run off the road by a tractor trailer that was sliding,” Amato said.
Then, “there were accidents, cars run off the road, I had to maneuver around,” he said.
Lights flashing and sirens blaring, Amato reached Chirichella’s home in about 45 minutes. The 50 foot path to his SUV was covered by two feet of snow, so he shoveled to clear the way for his patient.
The return trip was emotional, Amato said, because Chirichella began to come to terms with the harsh reality of many transplant patients.
He told her: “One person’s tragedy is another person’s miracle. She seemed puzzled, he said, and he told her the transplant was not prearranged, so the donor probably had passed away.
“I could see, from the expression on her face, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m getting this because someone died.’ ”
Amato’s brother and fellow paramedic, Gregory Amato, 51, of Mastic, who received a kidney and pancreas nearly 18 years ago, greeted Chirichella at Stony Brook when she arrived about 1:30 p.m.
LiveOnNY, which delivered the other kidney to another patient at New York-Presbyterian, got to Stony Brook sometime after 4 p.m., within the transplant window, and Chirichella was in recovery by about 10:30 p.m., Francisquini said.
“She’s doing well. She really is,” her daughter said. “She really has had high spirits ... She really remained hopeful despite the many challenges she had being on dialysis.”