WEST ORANGE, NJ — After hearing through NJ 101.5 evening radio host Steve Trevelise that his “oldest and dearest friend” Robbo Pisani, a fire captain with the North Hudson Fire Department, was struggling with kidney failure, West Orange resident Melissa Kohlman was so moved that she volunteered her own kidney for a living transplant.
In the weeks following the procedure, which was recently completed at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Trevelise has been overjoyed to share the stories of both donor and recipient through his radio show.
“Rob has done so much for me throughout my life,” said Trevlise. “To be able to help him is honest to God the greatest moment in my radio career. I could never top this.”
Kohlman, a mother of two and a secretary in Seton Hall University’s math and computer science department, was listening to 101.5 on her seven-minute drive home when she heard the plea. She said she called in as a potential donor because it was what her mind and body were telling her to do, and that there was never a moment where she regretted her decision.
In fact, Kohlman admitted on the air post-surgery that she sometimes feels a sense of guilt knowing that, in some ways, her decision to donate a kidney was “selfish"—because this was Kohlman's way of teaching her family and the community at large that “life isn’t about you, it’s about other people.”
“What I did was just something that I felt was right,” she said while sitting next to Pisani at 101.5. “I know sick people rely on doctors and medical professionals to help them, and I know people who have needed that—but fortunately, in my life, I have never known someone that needed a donor in order to live. To me, it was the right thing to do…If I could give a kidney again I would.”
Pisani, who routinely saves lives as a fire captain, found himself in need of saving after learning that he was in end-stage renal failure in January 2017. Over the last year, Pisani has undergone nine-to-10 hours of in-home dialysis each day.
Trevelise, who grew up in Union City with Pisani and whose father mentored Pisani as an ex-Union City fireman, could no longer watch his old friend deteriorate day-by-day and decided he would do everything in his power to help.
“For as long as I've known him, he would do whatever he could to help anyone in need, myself included,” said Trevelise. “To watch him deteriorate was heartbreaking, and when he came on the radio we prayed that someone would come through.”
Trevelise described Pisani as an “active guy,” explaining that Pisani spends a lot of time on his boat and even saved a man’s life while out on his boat in 2005. To suddenly see someone so active walking hunched over with the color drained from his face was a heartbreaking sight for Trevelise.
“I went down to like 137 pounds, so I was like skin and bones, I was grey, my eyes were yellow and you feel always tired,” said Pisani about his condition. “I used to be sitting at the table with my kids having dinner and I would literally fall asleep in the chair…
“I tried to do [the job] for about three weeks and the guys were like, ‘What are you doing? You need to go out on sick leave.’ But I’m just that type of person: I need to go to work, I need to do something. There came a point where I got so bad that I had to go back into the hospital.”
In talking with Pisani, Trevelise learned that his doctors had explained why it was crucial to spread the word about his need for a kidney.
“[Pisani] said to me, ‘My doctor said if you don’t ask, you’ll never know,’ and from that conversation I said, ‘You know what, I have a radio show, come on down and we’ll ask—what could it hurt?’” said Trevelise. “So he came down, I put him on the air the day after Christmas and then again in June with his brother, who’s a Union City police sergeant, we told his story, and Melissa happened to be listening. You can imagine our surprise when someone called in and said, ‘I’ll donate a kidney.’”
Pisani called into Trevelise’s show soon after the surgery and nearly brought the host to tears. As the two old friends spoke on the air about the miracle of receiving a kidney, Trevelise said “never in a million years” did he expect “an angel named Melissa” to come to their aid.
“There are angels who walk the Earth to help others and Melissa is one of them,” said Pisani. “Now, you would never think in a million years that a guy could go on the radio, ask for a kidney and get one. If that's the case, then you don't know New Jersey and New Jersey 101.5.”
Maria Morgievich, director of the Living Donor Institute at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, agreed with Pisani, saying, “Melissa is an angel among us for sure.”
According to Trevelise, Pisani has always been “one of those guys who would do anything for anybody.” Kohlman, who hoped but never expected to meet the recipient of her kidney, said she was thrilled to meet Pisani and his family, and has happily stayed in touch.
To learn more about becoming a living donor through Saint Barnabas Medical Center's Living Donor Institute, click HERE.
All photos are courtesy of 101.5 radio station. Below is the audio clip of Pisani and Kohlman on the air with Trevelise.