May 20, 2014 at 7:59 PM
MAPLEWOOD, NJ - A work connection, an extraordinary gift of generosity, and a stroke of luck gave Jaime David de León the gift of life.
The Jersey City man’s story begins more than a decade ago, when laboratory tests discovered high levels of a protein in his blood that showed he was in renal failure. He began kidney dialysis and went on the transplant waiting list at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
Four years later, he still had no kidney. JD’s blood type put him at a disadvantage. He was a type O positive. People with this blood type can be universal donors and, as a result, their organs are in high demand.
“It seemed everyone was getting a kidney except me,” JD said. His chances of finding a match were so slim doctors considered him for an experimental procedure that allows recipients to receive a non-compatible kidney. His wife, Theresa de León, came to the hospital to be tested as a possible non-compatible donor. But doctors quickly ruled her out because her blood pressure was too high. Despondent, she shared her story with a colleague at PNC Bank, where she works as a Vice President of Wealth Management.
The colleague was Ken Wenger, a Senior Vice President at PNC who lives in Maplewood. The two were driving to a business function when Ken asked her why she missed a day at work and she began to explain her husband’s story.
“I was shocked that he was on dialysis for so long. I talked to my wife and said, ‘I want to take care of this.’ When I feel I can do something I must,” Ken said. His brother was born with one kidney and growing up Ken thought one day he would have to donate a kidney to his brother.
But his brother is perfectly healthy. “My brother said, ‘I am never going to need your kidney,’” Ken recalled.
He proceeded with the surgery. He healed well and today rarely thinks of the donation.
“It felt pretty good to know I could help. My kids knew I had done a good deed,” Ken said.
He said the experience shows that relationships at work often go beyond business. He said he had long admired Theresa.
“I thought, would I give a kidney to Theresa? Yes, and by extension I did,” he said. Today he knows JD well and when they meet on various occasions, JD introduces him as a brother.
JD will be leading one of the 300 teams participating in NJ Sharing Network’s Annual 5K Walk and USATF Certified Race on June 8 in New Providence, the largest fundraiser of the year for NJ Sharing Network. The event has quickly become one of the premiere 5K races in New Jersey.
De Leon says participating in the 5K is his way of showing his gratitude for his gift and giving hope to others still waiting.
“It’s my way of saying thanks,” he said.
To sign up for NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Walk & USATF-Certified Race, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org or call 1-800-742-7365.