Kidney donor Christopher Tock, left, and recipient Paul Violino prior to...

Kidney donor Christopher Tock, left, and recipient Paul Violino prior to their transplant surgery on Jan. 31. A photo of Paul’s late wife, Laura Violino, was hung in the operating room during the kidney transplant. Credit: Family photos

Paul Violino first learned he'd inherited the gene for a rare kidney disease about 30 years ago, when his brother needed a kidney transplant and the medical condition meant he could not be a donor. 

Three decades later, Violino found himself in need, his kidneys deteriorating  because of the same polycystic kidney disease, and around him the potential donor list was dwindling fast.

A brother not affected by the gene proved the wrong blood type. Violino's sons, Brian and Kevin, were ruled out due to the gene — though he said doctors believe their mutated versions will not manifest in life-threatening issues. And a family friend was also eliminated  because of an unrelated medical condition.

It had already been a trying three-year stretch for Violino, 60, of Moriches, his family and close friends.

Paul Violino, 60, of Moriches, holds a photo of his late wife, Laura, who died last summer of a rare neurological disease. Credit: Rick Kopstein

His wife, Laura, was diagnosed in 2020 with progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurological disorder whose symptoms mimic Parkinson's disease and dementia, and which, following a rapid onset, proved fatal last July. Paul's brother Bob, who had undergone a successful kidney transplant after a living-donor donation from his own wife, Renee, in 1995, suffered sudden cardiac arrest that was nearly fatal, then had his lower left leg amputated  because of a life-threatening vascular issue.

And the family's longtime friends Steven and Teresa Tock, of Seaford, lost a relative in a house fire, then saw another die unexpectedly just months later.

Then, both families finally caught a break.

The Tocks' son Christopher, 30, learned he was a good candidate to become a kidney donor for Paul Violino. 

The transplant took place Jan. 31 at North Shore University Hospital-Northwell Health in Manhasset, conducted by a team led by  Dr. Ernesto P. Molmenti, vice chairman of surgery and director of transplantation. Molmenti, who made sure a photograph of the late Laura Violino was displayed in the operating room, said this week the surgery was "a huge success."

"This is a beautiful story," Molmenti said. "For Chris, he challenged destiny, basically. He had the courage to step up and say this is what happens — and he defied all the adversity that had happened in both families. And for Paul, he's gotten a gift that has changed his life."

In the weeks before the transplant, Violino said his kidney function had dwindled to 12%. This week, as he recovers, he said function already had improved to 75% — and is improving every day.

"There was some trepidation," Violino said of accepting the donation, "in that Chris is a young kid, and he's donating to a not-so-young guy. But  he did so out of the goodness of his heart for a family friend ... It's been really life-changing in such a positive way, despite all the ups and downs."

Teresa Tock had been a friend  of Laura Violino since they  were toddlers.

Christopher Tock, center, and his parents, Steve and Teresa Tock,...

Christopher Tock, center, and his parents, Steve and Teresa Tock, in the family's home in Seaford. Credit: Rick Kopstein

And Chris Tock said he  decided to become a  donor after his father, Steven, was ruled out r in August.

"Our families have always been close," said Chris Tock, who is a  good friend of Violino's two sons, even sharing a Melville apartment with Kevin. "Paul is as close to being an uncle as you could possibly get. After Paul lost his wife last summer, I guess I just didn't want my best friends to lose their dad, too ... I can live a normal life with one kidney. It was a no-brainer."

There were 27,332 kidney transplants performed in the  United States in 2023, Molmenti said, most thanks to the gift of deceased donors. About 6,300 were the result of living donors.

Of those, Molmenti said, fewer than 1,500 were from living donors ages 18 to 34.

Northwell completes about 200 kidney transplants a year, but just 10 last year were related to polycystic kidney disease, a condition that leads to the growth of cysts that ultimately destroy all kidney function. About 600,000 Americans suffer with the disorder, Northwell said.

"But," Molmenti said, "the success rates for these transplants, they are incredible. Really outstanding."

Once recovered, Molmenti said, both Chris Tock and Paul Violino will be able to lead normal lives, though Violino will need to take anti-rejection medicine for the remainder of his life.

This week, Tock said he was already back to feeling normal, while Violino said he'd been walking daily and on Tuesday had managed a two-mile walk.

"The biggest fear for me was not giving up the kidney," Tock said. "I was scared of the anesthesia. I'd never had surgery before, so the anesthesia was my fear."

Christopher Tock, at his family's Seaford home on Feb. 7,...

Christopher Tock, at his family's Seaford home on Feb. 7, is recovering after donating his kidney to a close family friend. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Tock said he was told he can't play contact sports anymore, but joked, "Any dreams of playing professional football are long behind me, and I can't skate, so I don't have to worry about hockey."

He added, "I'm just amazed at how supportive everyone has been. And I think Brian and Kevin are flabbergasted by it all."

Meanwhile, Violino is enjoying his new lease on life.

"I've got a new car ... I'm getting a new house," he said, noting he'd bought a Honda Accord in January and plans to move to Melville from Moriches later this year. "Now, I've got a new kidney.

"I'd say that after some terrible years, 2024 is starting out pretty good."

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