Tyler Gomez, 15, of Selden, will appear in the Netflix documentary "Emergency NYC." The teen underwent a lifesaving kidney transplant, with his father as the donor. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Playing baseball is a passion for 15-year-old Tyler Gomez and something he wasn’t able to do for much of his young life.

The Selden teen had to be constantly monitored and take various medications to make sure his one working kidney remained functional. He was often fatigued, and sometimes his joints ached.

That changed after Tyler received a kidney transplant in 2021 from a living donor, his father, Salvatore. Now, the teen is a member of his high school's junior varsity baseball team.

“It’s pretty cool,” Tyler said of his father's lifesaving gift. “I have a piece of him inside me for the rest of my life.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Tyler Gomez, a Selden teen who needed a kidney transplant, received one from his father and is now healthy enough to play junior varsity baseball.
  • His story and transplant surgery is featured in a new Netflix docuseries "Emergency NYC" focused on the work of doctors, nurses and EMTs.
  • The Gomez family hopes by sharing their story, more people will consider organ donation.

Tyler's difficult journey, which includes a blood-clot scare and a second surgery to reconnect the donated kidney at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, is one of the stories featured in a new Netflix documentary series, “Emergency NYC,” that began airing this week.

The show follows the daily work and challenges of doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and other front-line medical professionals at several hospitals in New York City and on Long Island. It follows several storylines across episodes, including Tyler's family.

His parents, Jill and Sal Gomez, said they hope that by sharing their story, they can help other families facing transplant surgery while illustrating the importance of organ donation. As of January, more than 88,000 people in the United States were on the waiting list for a kidney, according to the federal government. 

“The biggest questions are always, ‘What is it going to be like? What do I need? What do I have to do?,' ” said Jill Gomez, 46, a school secretary who said she found support via social media from other parents whose children may need kidney transplants. “If this [series] was out there, I probably would have watched it myself.”

The close-knit family also includes older brother Kyle, 17, and four dogs.

Sal Gomez, holding Winston, with his son Tyler, who received a kidney from...

Sal Gomez, holding Winston, with his son Tyler, who received a kidney from his father. Credit: James Carbone

Kidney problem before birth

Doctors noticed a problem with Tyler's kidneys when his mother was pregnant with him. After he was born, they determined one had stopped growing. High creatinine levels showed problems with the functioning of his remaining kidney.

Over the years, Tyler was put on different medications as doctors worked to keep his healthy kidney working.

“These patients are linked to kidney doctors from a very young age who work tirelessly to try and temporize the situation and do whatever they can to slow the decline in kidney function,” said Dr. Elliot Grodstein, who performed Tyler’s transplant surgery at Cohen's.

“Tyler was one of those kids, but it became clear that his kidney function was declining rather rapidly,” said Grodstein, an associate professor of surgery at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. “And so especially in kids, we try to get them transplanted early, before they need dialysis because going on to dialysis is awful for growth. It's awful for psychosocial development. Mentally, it's a hurdle for anybody, but for kids it's especially awful.”

Grodstein praised Tyler’s resilience during the difficult months leading up to surgery as well as his recovery.

“Tyler, he’s an amazing kid,” Grodstein said. “I have found many adults that once they get sick, it just dominates their psyche. They can only think about their sickness. Tyler was on the precipice of needing dialysis, yet you could see that in his eyes he wasn't going to let that affect his ability to play on the baseball team and to be with his friends after school.”

Both Jill and Sal were tested to see whether their kidneys could be donated to Tyler and were found to be a match. After much discussion, they agreed Sal would be the donor.

Grodstein said having a living donor and one who was a direct family member increased the odds that Tyler’s body would accept the transplant.

Surgery, then complications

The surgeries were performed in June 2021 in adjoining operating rooms. The next day, Sal was able to see Tyler for an emotional reunion.

Their recovery at home was cut short. Complications arose when doctors discovered the pain Tyler felt in his leg was caused by a blood clot. He needed to go back into surgery, where doctors cleared the clot and worked on one of the arterial connections.

Finally, Tyler could go home and focus on healing. In the following months, he felt his strength coming back.

“Before the transplant, I got tired a lot,” Tyler said. “Sometimes I would come and sleep. Now I can go out and run around.”

Jill and Sal noticed the change in Tyler’s energy. His body doesn’t hurt and his joints don’t ache.

“It took a lot to get there,” Jill said.

Over the next year, the young Mets fan had a chance to see his team play at Citi Field. The family took a vacation to Yellowstone National Park through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where Tyler soaked up the great outdoors and got a chance to see a majestic elk in the wild.

He will continue to be monitored and take medication to make sure his body does not reject his father's kidney. And it's likely at some point, many years from now, Tyler will need another transplant.

Jill hopes their story encourages people to consider becoming a living donor.

“You are 99.9% going to live the rest of your life wonderfully, and you are going to save someone in the meantime,” she said.

Tyler Gomez, 2nd from right, gathered with his family at...

Tyler Gomez, 2nd from right, gathered with his family at their Selden home to celebrate the first anniversary of the kidney transplant he received from his father, Salvatore, far left, in 2022. His older brother, Kyle, 17, is 2nd from left. His mother, Jill, is at far right. Credit: Gomez Family Photo

Sal always had been into fitness, but the 43-year-old utility worker had to take it slow after his surgery. He started walking and then running. A little more than a year later, he ran his first NYC Marathon, raising more than $8,000 for the National Kidney Foundation.

“Most people aren’t as lucky as we were,” Sal said. “I wanted to give back.”

And he wanted to show people you can live an active healthy life with one kidney.

“This would be proof there is nothing to be afraid of,” Sal added. “It’s actually kinda cool.”

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