The goal for Ed Kranepool was both incredibly simple and infinitely complex.
On its surface, it was a short, familiar walk: the stroll from the third-base line to home plate — in this case, for the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1969 Mets at Citi Field last June. But behind it all was a dizzying array of cascading, synchronizing parts that came to a head on May 7, 2019.
Two strangers, after all, had to give up their kidneys for Kranepool to get his, and one had to have Kranepool's rare blood type. The surgeon had to be capable and Kranepool, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, had to be strong. And then, less than two months after the surgery, Kranepool, then 74, would have to turn his journey into the walk. He didn’t use a wheelchair or a walker, and when he made it to the lectern, his voice displayed no weakness.
That in itself was a massive accomplishment, but now, one year later, Kranepool continues to meet and exceed expectations.
“I feel great,” said Kranepool, who even went down to spring training before the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through the United States. “I feel very good. I’m up and about and getting around and I don’t have any problems. I have no pains. It was a wonderful experience.”
It wasn’t always that way — at least not at first. Kranepool had been on the transplant list for two years and had about 12 to 13% kidney function remaining when he finally matched with his eventual donor, said Stony Brook University Hospital’s Dr. Frank Darras, who operated on him. He was close to having to undergo dialysis, “and the window of opportunity [for a transplant] wasn’t going to last another four or five years, so time was of the essence,” Darras said.
One possible match fell through, Darras said, and when Monica Kranepool, Ed’s wife, heard the bad news, she burst into tears.
But then in came Brian Cooney and Deborah Barbieri — both of whom came together to create a chain that would save both Kranepool and Deborah’s husband, Al, a volunteer firefighter suffering from kidney cancer who had been on dialysis for 2 1/2 years. Cooney, a Port Authority police officer, heard there was a need for donations and eventually donated his kidney to Al. In return, Deborah, who matched with Kranepool, gave her kidney to the former Met.
“I’ve had a great life and a great career,” said Cooney, of Oakdale, who previously served with the NYPD. “I’ve been a police officer for more than 20 years. I was at the World Trade Center and I saw all types of bad things happen to good people, but for me, it was a different experience. I was very lucky . . . and I thought it would be a cool way to give back.”
The lifelong Yankees fan said he was prepared to never know who got his kidney, but shortly before the surgery was scheduled, he watched a news conference about Kranepool’s upcoming procedure. The details sounded familiar.
“I mean, I was prepared to give it to whoever,” he said. “The fact that it turned out to be a volunteer firefighter and a baseball world champion made it even better.”
As for Al, the situation had gotten dire before his transplant: His brother, a potential donor, turned out to have kidney cancer as well (his was caught early enough and he’s doing well, Al said).
“That was the last hope, to be honest,” Al said. “I was hoping to be getting a donor but after that, I didn’t think anything was going to happen.”
But the Barbieris, who live in Glenwood Landing, didn’t give up and began to look into the possibility of a swap — “a minimal chance but better than nothing,” Al said. The day before Deborah finalized her last test, Cooney had finalized his test, Al said. “If she had done it sooner, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Soon after, Deborah got the call from the doctor “and he said it was a celebrity that was going to get my kidney,” she said. When they found out it was Kranepool, they were flabbergasted: The Mets fans had been following his journey for months, hoping he would find a donor.
The surgery came soon after, and Deborah recovered within days. On June 6, she threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Mets game right alongside Kranepool. Darras and Cooney got a similar honor, with Darras throwing and Cooney catching.
But for the operating doctor, little meant as much as watching Kranepool make that short walk during the June 30 celebration.
“I’m so proud of him because of what he did when he was out there that Saturday afternoon,” Darras said. “I told him before the surgery that my goal is to make sure you walk onto that field. I’m not going to want you to go out in a wheelchair or a walker or anything. I want you to go out on your own two feet, and he did it and his voice was strong, he was sharp, and my phone was pinging like crazy.”
For Kranepool, it took on even greater significance. So many of the ’69 Mets are in ill health or have passed away, and he cherishes every chance he gets to be around the lifelong friends who are still with him. “It felt so good that I was able to go there without any stress,” he said.
“This is 50-year friendships that we have, and to maintain them and still be part of it, it’s wonderful,” he said. “I went to spring training last year and I went this year, and to be back on the field and be healthy or as good as I can be, it’s wonderful.”