North Branford Patch: Why did you need a kidney transplant?
Frank Antonucci: I was born with a genetic kidney disease called polycystic kidneys. My kidney and my liver had many cysts on them, some the size of an orange. What happens is, as you get older, the cysts take over more of the issue to the point where, in most cases, your kidneys will shut down. I found out when I was 27 years old and it was like a little cloud hanging over my head, but it was like, “Hey, I was dealt these cards. I’ll deal with it.” The doctor at that point said I had to look at my family history and that would determine whether my kidneys would shut down or not. My uncle and my mother, both in their early 50’s, had to go on dialysis and both had a transplant.
North Branford Patch: What was dialysis like?
Antonucci: In 2000 I went on peritoneal dialysis, which is dialysis here at home. It was a nine-hour process, so I’d have to be hooked to the machine for nine hours a day. It got to the point where it was like brushing my teeth at night. It didn’t determine my lifestyle at all. I was still able to work and travel.
North Branford Patch: What was your experience on the transplant list?
Antonucci: When I went on the list in 2000, they said it was going to take three years. At that point about 85,000 people were waiting for organ transplants. Today it’s about 111,000 people. People waiting for kidneys make up about 80 percent of that.
North Branford Patch: How did you find a donor?
Antonucci: I would mention it to friends and some would say, “I’ll get tested,” and some would says, “Oh, good luck.” I would never go out and say, “Hey, can I have your kidney?” I don’t have any brothers or sisters so there was no one I could turn to. My wife, my kids, my brother-in-laws, none of them were a match for me. They have to match your blood type as well as antigens. On the weekend of July 4, 2002, I was up in Boston visiting my brother-in-law. He was dating this girl named Julie who we were close with, but we didn’t see all the time. After seeing her that weekend, I received a phone call from her saying she wanted to give me her kidney. She said, “Frank, I talked to my family, I went to my doctor, God is telling me I’ve got to do this.”
North Branford Patch: What was the transplant surgery like?
Antonucci: It took about five and a half hours. The site where they placed the kidney became infected. They had to open up the wound so it could heal from the inside. My wife would pack the wound in my stomach with gauze every morning, and when she’d take it out the gauze would stretch all the way to the ceiling.
North Branford Patch: How soon could you tell the new kidney was working?
Antonucci: Right away. If you’ve had a bad virus where you’re achy and tired, that’s the way you feel when you’re kidneys aren’t working well. I immediately felt the difference.
North Branford Patch: Since your transplant, how have you given back?
Antonucci: I said I wanted to give back, so that’s when I joined the National Kidney Foundation, which is an organization which promotes kidney health. A lot of kidney failure is caused by diabetes, so we educate people about checking blood pressure and sugar levels. From there, I got involved with Donate Life Connecticut, which is an organ and tissue donation awareness organization. We go to health fairs and talk about organ and tissue. It’s a crazy subject to talk about, but it’s real. Fortunately, I got my organ from a living donor, but a lot of people get organs from deceased donors.
North Branford Patch: What is the most satisfying part of your work with Donate Life?
Antonucci: Many times you talk to people who are scared because they are in a situation where they are afraid their organs might shut down. Usually a couple of us will say, “Hey, here we are. We were in this same situation. It’ll be okay. This is what you need to do.” To see them walk away with a relief, it’s pretty good.
North Branford Patch: What is the biggest misconception about the organ donor process?
Antonucci: The big misconception is that people think when a loved one is wheeled into the emergency room from an accident, as soon as they see a little heart on their license, which means they’re an organ donor, the doctor is going to say, “We want to save these organs and we’re going to let this person die.” They think that’s the mentality of the doctors. We explain to people that’s against the Hippocratic Oath.
North Branford Patch: What is a typical day in the life of an organ donor recipient?
Antonucci: The only way it has affected me day to day is that I’m so thankful. Because I got this gift and I could have died, I just find myself being a lot nicer to people. I perceive people differently and I try to look at people’s good sides rather than the bad.
North Branford Patch: What is your relationship with Julie like today?
Antonucci: She’s very proud. It’s her badge of honor. It’s a great thing. She should be wearing a big sign that says, “I saved his life.” I haven’t talked to her in awhile, but she knows I’m always thinking of her. It’s a relationship you can’t explain.
To be featured in ‘A Day in the Life’ or to suggest someone who should be profiled, send information to Jim Gangi.