WEST ORANGE, NJ - Cybil Binan of West Orange and Yvonne Zaccone have shared their lives with each other since they became best friends in fifth grade—so much so, in fact, that they sign their letters "LYLAS" – "love you like a sister." Now, after a long medical journey, these two "sisters" are sharing much more than childhood memories.
When Zaccone was diagnosed with end-stage-renal-disease kidney failure in Nov. of 2013, she began the routine of hemo-dialysis with her family and friends like Binan by her side, according to her GoFundMe page. Zaccone quickly moved from in-patient procedures to manual sessions in the comfort of her own home, and then to at-home overnight dialysis.
While it was clear that Zaccone was in need of a new kidney, finding a donor who was a match proved to be a difficult process. Several people came close, but ultimately, it was Binan who stepped up as a matching kidney donor.
"When I found out it was her, when I knew she needed it, I didn't hesitate," said Binan. "She told me she was getting put on the national donor list to look for a kidney, and when I found that out I said, ‘I'll just get tested.’ The first thing I said was I'll see if I'm a match. Nothing occurred to me that it might be painful or anything like that. So, I went and got tested, and I was a match."
After finding the match, the process of testing began. First, Zaccone had to be tested to make sure her body wouldn't reject Binan's kidney. Then, Binan had to undergo testing to make sure her body would be able to withstand the procedure and live with only one kidney.
After Zaccone's testing was approved, Binan was ready to go; however, she met an unexpected obstacle that threw doubt over the situation.
"Somebody else had also opted to get tested, and I didn't know," Binan explained. "When I was approved, after I had my testing to make sure she could take mine, I was ready to go, to actually start my testing for me. And the hospital said, 'No, somebody's ahead of you.'"
Binan added, tearfully, "And that was very hard to hear. I was really devastated. I really felt like it was meant to be. I really wanted to be that person for her. Because we were so close, I wanted to do that for her."
In Feb., Binan got her wish when the hospital called again and asked her to come to Florida to finish testing. She said she enthusiastically agreed, and was able to resume her journey to save her childhood friend.
At the hospital, Binan met with a team of doctors who comprehensively prepared her for the procedure.
Binan said, "All my testing took five days. I went to all sorts of testing and I met with a huge team of people. I went to psychologists just to make sure you're not a wacko, also a donor advocate to make sure you're not being coerced to do it, which was something I never even thought about. But there was a whole team of people who were all there for me. So, I had a lot of testing, I had a lot of blood drawn, and they put chemicals in me and watched them react in my body. I had CAT scans. I had a stress test ... you name it, I had it done. I met with a nutritionist—they really covered all the bases."
Binan then met with the surgeon, and promptly asked him not to go into full detail about the procedure.
"Take it out of me and put it in her, that's all I need to know," she said.
After a successful transplant, both women are currently in recovery.
"I know I am so grateful and blessed to have a friend in Cybil. She has always been my sister and will always be. Her heart is always so generous and is always willing to help where she can," Zaccone wrote in an update on her GoFundMe page. "But this generous step is so huge ... I just don't have the right words to say how grateful I am. She is giving me the gift of life. I will have more days with my husband and children and all of you."
Now that she is back in West Orange, Binan said she has found a solid support system in the community around her, for which she is grateful.
Binan said, "It's been a really good experience. People have been sending my cards and flowers and letters. They set up a meal train for me. So many people have offered to help out with picking up my daughter from camp. It's just amazing—the whole thing.”
She added, “West Orange is just like that. I have such a great support system and I have such great friends. That's helped a lot in my recovery, just knowing that if I need something, someone will come by."
Binan and Zaccone said that the bond between them has been strengthened by the unique experience they have both enjoyed and suffered through together.
"I would encourage other people to do this if they have the opportunity,” said Binan. “It's totally an amazing experience.”
"There is no greater gift than truly giving a part of yourself to give someone life,” Zaccone wrote. “LYLAS to you Cybil, always.”