'Ultimate Father's Day gift': A kidney

After the kidney transplant Leonard Burke received from his wife, Rhonda, failed after a year, he received yet another chance at life from his father, Ronald. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (June 14, 2013)

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When Ronald Burke learned that his son's 3-year-old transplanted kidney was failing, he "didn't think twice" before offering to help.

"It feels really wonderful to know that you can give someone a second chance of living practically a normal life -- especially someone very close and dear to you," Burke said.

On June 3, his son, Leonard, underwent a second transplant operation at the North Shore University Hospital Transplant Center in Manhasset, this time accepting a kidney donated by his father.

Both were released two days later and now intend to celebrate "the ultimate Father's Day gift" during a family gathering Sunday.

Leonard Burke, 32, of Richmond Hills, Queens, didn't realize his kidneys were failing until he wound up in the emergency room in 2008.

After Leonard had several strange coughing fits, his wife Rhonda rushed him to the hospital. Doctors initially thought he was suffering from cardiac arrest, but tests later revealed that hypertension had caused irreparable damage to Leonard's kidneys.

Rhonda was deemed a compatible donor, but Leonard was reluctant to put his wife through the procedure.

"He didn't want me to endure the pain of that experience," she recalled. "I would lie next to him all the time, and he would get these muscle spasms. He was gaining weight . . . it was difficult."

After two years of dialysis, Leonard reluctantly agreed to accept his wife's kidney.

Soon after the surgery in March 2010, Leonard resumed working as office supervisor for a parts distribution company. Rhonda gave birth to their daughter Isabel, now 18 months old.

The couple met while attending middle school in San Fernando, the largest city in Trinidad and Tobago. They settled in New York City in 1998, along with Leonard's mother, father and younger brother.

Leonard said he felt like a "recharged battery" in the months following the first transplant. He had no idea the organ was failing until he went to the Manhasset center for a checkup a year later.

This time, his 55-year-old father, who shares a duplex with his son's family, stepped in to play the role of lifesaver.

Transplanted kidneys last an average of 13 years, said Ernesto Molmenti, surgical director of the transplant center. The center is currently researching to find the cause of Leonard's rejection of his wife's kidney.

In 2012, 1,167 kidney transplants were performed in New York, and 8,222 individuals are currently on a waiting list, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Molmenti called it "a gift from heaven" that Leonard had two family members able to provide a compatible organ.

Rhonda said her husband's determination -- and the couple's desire to remain strong for their daughter -- helped them through the ordeal.

The family is looking forward to an intimate celebration Sunday, with father and son both recovering nicely.

"It means so much that he is with us," Rhonda said of her husband. "But really every day is Father's Day."

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