SOMERS, N.Y.-“It’s not like borrowing money. You are asking a lot of someone,” said Mahopac resident Matt Fiscella.
Fiscella suffers from chronic kidney disease and is in dire need of a kidney transplant. Until that happens, he goes for dialysis treatment three times a week, three-plus hours per session, in order to stay alive.
“If I stop treatment, I stop living,” he said.
Fiscella, 46, grew up in Somers and is a 1989 graduate of Somers High School. He moved to Mahopac in 2001. He and his wife have three sons, all of whom attend Mahopac schools. He works as a compliance officer for an investment company, a job that allows him to work from home on his dialysis days.
“They’ve been very supportive,” he said of his company.
Fiscella is a sports fan—he played some football and basketball in high school and roots enthusiastically for the New York Mets. He also is a music aficionado—he attended the University of Miami where he studied music as a drummer and percussionist. (He happily names drummers John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Keith Moon of The Who and Neil Peart of Rush as the “holy trinity of rock.”) But since the onset of his kidney disease 11 years ago, all this has had to take a back seat.
“I’ve tried to show my son some things [on the drums], but since I’ve gotten sick, it’s hard for me to play,” he said. “I get tired.”
Fiscella said he doesn’t like to use the word “battle” when it comes to describing his fight against his disease.
“Battle is a bad word because when kidneys start to shut down, it’s such a slow process,” he said. “You don’t even realize it at first.”
Fiscella said that if it weren’t for a routine physical, he would have never found out about it.
“They found high traces of protein in the urine, which indicates that the kidneys are malfunctioning,” he said. “They did an ultrasound to try to figure out what was going on and noticed a malignant tumor on one kidney, which had nothing to do with the kidney disease. They did surgery to remove that. I didn’t need any further treatment but now I have half a kidney. My kidneys were slowly shutting down and the fact that I lost half a kidney didn’t help my cause.”
Fiscella said it can sometimes be difficult to determine what causes chronic kidney disease.
“They don’t know what is causing it,” he said. “About 80 percent of the time, it is caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, but I don’t have either of those,” he explained. “For 20 percent, they just don’t know. It could be a number of things.”
Three and half years ago, when his kidney function reached 19 percent, Fiscella became eligible to be put on the transplant list. He was registered at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Without a transplant, he will need to continue with dialysis for the rest of his life.
“I could get a kidney from the deceased donor waiting list, but it takes a long time. There are over 100,000 people currently on the transplant waiting list,” he said. “So, I may need to spend up to eight years waiting to receive a matching kidney from a deceased donor.
“It is possible for me to get a transplant from a living donor if someone would be generous enough to donate their kidney. And kidneys from living donors, on average, last about four or five years longer than kidneys from a deceased donor.”
He said several people stepped forward who were willing to donate but were turned down either for health reasons or because their blood type didn’t match.
“I am a type O, so I can only receive type O,” he said.
Fiscella said the kidney function level usually has to drop to 10 percent before dialysis is ordered, but he started earlier than that.
“I got prostate cancer and they wanted to do surgery,” he said. “My kidney doctor said to go on dialysis a few months before the surgery to make sure I had the strength for it.”
He began dialysis in January 2013.
Fiscella said that though he is usually a private person, he decided to take the search for a possible donor into his own hands, posting notices around town and starting a Facebook page. The idea, he said, came from his doctors.
“In November, I went for my annual assessment and they asked me if I had any success finding someone and they suggested social media,” he said. “I was hesitant at first, but I figured I would give it a shot. They gave me a template.”
His message, in part, reads, “For these reasons, I am asking for your help in spreading the word. If you would be willing to help share my need for a living donor with your community and friends, I would greatly appreciate it. Please keep in mind that there are absolutely no medical costs associated with being a living organ donor. Everything will be covered by my insurance.”
“I’ve had a few inquiries and one person filled out the questionnaire,” he said. “You have a higher success rate with a living donor. There are benefits. But there is a guilty feeling because it’s a huge sacrifice. You think, ‘What if it fails?’ ”
Nonetheless, Fiscella remains hopeful a qualified donor will be found.
“You have to be optimistic; that’s half the battle,” he said. “You can wait up to eight years on the list and eventually you tend to forget about it for a while.”
Those who might consider donating or just want to know more can email firstname.lastname@example.org. For a FAQ from the hospital and an online questionnaire, go to http://columbiasurgery.org/kidney-transplant/becoming-kidney-donor.