After decades of public service, Tony Jimenez, a Vietnam veteran, retired Nassau deputy jury commissioner and ex-Glen Cove City councilman, is asking for something special back from the community he has served: a kidney donation that could save his life.
The 69-year-old began dialysis treatments in 2019, years after his health started to decline following his exposure to Agent Orange as an Army infantryman and then to more toxic substances after 9/11 while volunteering in bucket brigades on the pile at Ground Zero.
Jimenez's doctors say he needs a kidney transplant from a live donor because he could die or his health could deteriorate too much in the time it would take him to make it to the top of the state's five- to seven-year waiting list for a cadaver organ donation.
He believes his best hope for survival lies with those he has served.
"I’m in kidney failure and I need a kidney. … So I’m appealing to somebody from the kindness of their heart to donate a kidney," he said in an interview. "I’m asking for more than I ever gave."
Public service was a path Jimenez first chose as a teenager, volunteering for the draft at 17 before heading to Vietnam at 18 after graduating from W.T. Clarke High School in Westbury.
He came home with the rank of sergeant, along with recognition that included a Purple Heart medal and two valor awards. But it was the idea of serving others that got him through dark times when he questioned why he had lived while fellow soldiers had died.
"I wasn’t killed in ‘Nam. I’m home for a reason and I think that reason is to help others and to do good. And that’s kind of the way I lived my life since," Jimenez said.
For four decades, Jimenez has struggled with diabetes that he attributes to Agent Orange exposure.
He also suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has had bouts with skin cancer following his Ground Zero exposure. He gets treatment for those problems under the World Trade Center Health Program.
On 9/11, Jimenez, a longtime member and former chief of Glen Cove’s Volunteer EMS Corps, was one of the first responders who took a ferry from the North Shore to lower Manhattan to treat World Trade Center evacuees and transport them to Long Island.
Then a state court officer, for about two weeks after the terrorist attack Jimenez went to the scene on nights and weekends to continue with others to search for those missing after the towers collapsed — including some fellow court officers.
Jimenez, a husband, father of two and grandfather, retired from the court system in 2017 and started a part-time job as Glen Cove’s Veterans Services officer. He helps fellow veterans and their families get benefits such as disability compensation, property tax exemptions and medical coverage.
Some of his charity work in the city has included mentoring at-risk youth and delivering meals to the needy, which he does with his wife of 36 years, Kathy Jimenez, a registered nurse.
"If there’s a charity in Glen Cove, his name is either on the roster now or it’s been on the roster. The guy is just a giver," said fellow city resident Bob Truzzolino.
The two worked together for decades in Nassau’s court system, and Truzzolino, the county’s jury commissioner, said Jimenez had been like "a built-in EMT" in state Supreme Court in Mineola — at one point using a defibrillator to revive an attorney who went into medical crisis during jury selection.
At the same time, Jimenez downplayed his own medical struggles, coming to work as usual after having part of a foot removed because of diabetes and even driving himself to the hospital after suffering a stroke on the job, Truzzolino said.
"He’s one of those guys you meet in life and you say ‘My God, how come I’m not more like that, you know?’" said Truzzolino, 67. "This is a guy, if it was the other way around, he would have given up both his kidneys."
Dr. Gayatri Nair, a transplant nephrologist for Northwell Health and one of Jimenez's doctors, said in an interview that the first criteria for a possible live kidney donor for him would be someone with a blood group match, a person with A-negative or O-negative blood.
A potential donor, who statistically wouldn't have a higher risk of a shorter life with one kidney but would have an increased risk of high blood pressure, also can't have diabetes, hypertension or take medication for any chronic medical illnesses, according to the physician.
Anyone who meets those standards and wants to explore a possible donation would do a phone screening, then potentially progress to meeting with the hospital system's live donor team and undergoing medical tests, Nair said.
Jimenez said a niece of his is being tested, but other relatives don't qualify as live donors for various reasons. One friend went in for testing and doctors found he had liver problems, according to Jimenez. He said a former court colleague also came forward as a potential donor but didn't meet all the criteria.
In February, Jimenez had triple bypass surgery on his heart after testing focused on determining his eligibility for a transplant uncovered life-threatening blockages.
While his medical condition is complex, Dr. Nair said Jimenez is cleared for a transplant surgery.
Efforts to get word out about Jimenez's appeal include a Facebook page called "Seeking A Kidney Donor for Tony Jimenez," where Nassau County Legis. Delia DiRiggi-Whitton lobbies the public to help him.
The two previously served together on Glen Cove's City Council. The Democratic county legislator said in an interview that Jimenez, one of her closest friends, is worthy of the gift he's seeking but also "really is uncomfortable asking for help."
Jimenez spent more than 14 years as a council member, including a temporary appointment in 2014.
His tenure with Glen Cove hasn't been without some controversy. After an audit, city officials voted last year to end the retiree health benefits of the former councilman and five others, Newsday previously reported.
After a city policy change in 2011, Jimenez had picked up retiree coverage while continuing to work for Glen Cove. He said in 2019 that city officials had been aware of his coverage and he did nothing wrong.
City Council members on both sides of the aisle praised Jimenez, a Democrat, as a dedicated public servant when naming him in 2014 to temporarily fill the seat of late Councilman Nicholas DiLeo.
DiRiggi-Whitton, 52, said she believes the community should look after Jimenez.
"I think it’s one of those situations where he has given so much to so many. ... If someone is willing to step up and give that ultimate gift it would be amazing," she added.
Anyone interested in a preliminary screening as a potential living kidney donor for Tony Jimenez can call Northwell Health's kidney transplant program at 516-472-5800. A donor should:
- Have A-negative or O-negative blood
- Not have have diabetes, hypertension or take medication for any chronic illnesses
- Be willing to undergo medical tests to check for a potential match