Joe Boyce, of Wantagh, who was desperately searching for a live kidney donor after his kidney function dropped dramatically in March, found one not far from home. His neighbor, Liz Haines, donated one of hers. Newsday TV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost; Photo Credit: Joe Boyce, Liz Haines

When a neighbor called to stop by late last month, Christine Boyce and her husband, Joe, figured it was more well-wishers in his ongoing battle against kidney disease.

Weeks later, Joe Boyce, 56, of Wantagh, is recovering from a lifesaving kidney transplant — thanks to neighbor Liz Haines, 46, who became his living donor in an operation at Northwell Health's North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset on June 6.

While the incredible act of kindness left the Boyces at a loss on how to fully thank Haines and her family, Haines said last week she didn't consider what she did anything special.

"I don't really think it's that incredible, though people keep saying that," she said. "It just felt sort of natural to me. I was just glad I could help."

A former cross country running star at Holy Trinity High School and St. John's University, Joe Boyce was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2014 and placed on a statewide watchlist for a cadaver-donor transplant. But in March his kidney function dropped dramatically and doctors at North Shore told him he needed a live donor — and soon.

He and his wife set up a web page — kidney4joe.org — with the help of the National Kidney Donor Organization, urging potential donors to get tested. Newsday first wrote about their search in April.

The Boyce and Haines families knew each other because their kids attend school together. Joe said he'd often run into Liz's husband, Don, who is retired from the NYPD, while dropping their daughters off at school and they'd talk for a few minutes. A few years ago, the Boyces even rented the Haines' ski house, Joe Boyce said, but it wasn't like they were best friends.

Still, hearing Boyce needed a kidney, Liz Haines said her husband got tested as a potential donor. He wasn't a match, but when Liz got tested, she was.

Liz said her final decision to become a living donor resulted from a culmination of events. She'd lost her mom at age 5 and knew what it was like to grow up without a parent. And her dad, Martin Lindquist, a retired FDNY firefighter, died Dec. 30 at age 76.

"He was just a very selfless, caring person," Liz Haines said. "That was some of the motivation."

As she went through the tests and inched closer to being a possible match, she thought: "I couldn't not do it for his [Joe's] kids and his family. I couldn't imagine turning back."

Through her own research and speaking with doctors, she said, she felt confident she would be able to live a normal life with just one kidney.

'It as a great example for my kids ... That you do what you can to help others.'

-Liz Haines, left, on donating a kidney to her neighbor Joe Boyce, right.

And, she added, "I also thought of it as a great example for my kids … That you do what you can to help others."

The Boyces, meanwhile, knew Don had been tested — but had no idea Liz wanted to be a donor until Liz and Don Haines arrived at their house in May.

"She was like, 'I've met with everyone at the hospital. We have the surgical suite. We're going to do this June 6,' " Christine Boyce recalled of the moment. "We were like, 'Jeepers.' How do you respond to that?"

Joe said he was initially shocked and nervous for Liz, but later texted her: "I'm so sorry. I didn't really thank you enough."

"After they left, I just broke down," Joe Boyce said. "I mean, what can you say? I can never repay her."

Christine Boyce, a science teacher at Calhoun High School, said she was determined to find a way. She bought gift cards for Liz Haines, who teaches pre-K in Bellmore, so she wouldn't have to cook during her recovery.

"I said to Joe, 'Maybe I should cash in my retirement and pay for her kids to go to college? Maybe we should send them on vacation to Hawaii?'"

But, Christine Boyce said, Liz Haines told her, " 'You don't need to get us anything.' Her idea was just live life every day and be a good person."

Joe Boyce still has a long road ahead. Christine jokes that the kitchen counter is lined with anti-rejection medicine bottles: "Morning medicine, daytime medicine, evening medication." But, she said, doctors told them Joe's recovery is going as well as can be expected. He is already back to work as an accountant.

And Liz Haines said she's recovering well, too.

"All I know is I'm lucky," Joe Boyce said. He learned 27 people had come forward to be tested to see if they were a match for him. Some were complete strangers.

"It's humbling," he added. "Donors are special people. They're on a different wavelength from the rest of us."

He said he told Liz, "I'm usually not a hugger. But I'm compelled to hug you."

With living organ donors at a premium in New York, the State Assembly earlier this month passed the Living Donor Support Act, which would remove financial barriers for donors and increase public education and awareness. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

It would provide reimbursement for certain medical and other expenses related to living donation for state residents such as lost wages, child care, travel and lodging.

It also provides for patient education, with state officials saying that although more than a third of New Yorkers believe the risk of death during donor surgery to be "greater than one in 20," the real risk is one in 3,300.

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