By Jade Perez
Last year, Crystal Sparks knew her husband, Rob, was suffering through his regular and debilitating dialysis sessions.
He has battled diabetes since he was 26 years old and when he came home to tell her that he needed a kidney transplant, Sparks had no idea at the time that she would be his donor.
But through “the grace of God,” doctors determined she was a match, she said.
“We were both excited, hugging each other and crying,” Sparks said.
Last Friday, Sparks and two other sets of kidney recipients and donors along with the doctors and staff at Westchester Medical Center’s Transplant Center gathered at the Taylor Center Pavilion on the hospital’s campus in Valhalla to celebrate the new leases on life in recognition of Donate Life Month.
Medical teams at Westchester Medical Center, the Hudson Valley’s only transplant center, have been performing kidney transplants for 30 years, liver transplants since 1996 and heart transplants since 2001. In 2018, the center successfully completed 162 organ transplants.
The neighboring Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, also part of the WMCHealth network, has pediatric kidney, bone marrow and corneal transplant programs.
“At any given time, there are more than 120,000 people nationwide waiting for an organ, and in New York State alone – the state with the lowest organ donation rate nationally – a person dies every 18 hours while waiting for a transplant,” said Dr. Thomas Diflo, chief of intra-abdominal organ transplantation at Westchester Medical Center.
Westchester Medical Center not only recognized the contributions of kidney donors as well as recipients on Friday, but sought to raise awareness about the critical need for organ donation locally and nationally.
Since his transplant last fall, Rob Sparks said he is feeling better than ever and feels like he “could conquer the world.”
“I watched him go through a lot of trauma seeing his mother face the same ordeal and I knew that I didn’t want to see him go through the same thing,” said Crystal Sparks, 43, the same age as her husband. “So I told him that I was willing to get tested and see if I can be a possible donor for him.”
Also attending the ceremony was Elizabeth Durkin, 40, who donated her right kidney to her then-seven-year-old cousin, Liam Brady, last August after he developed chronic kidney disease.
Liam’s mother, Stephanie Brady, recalled how relieved she was after finding out that Durkin was a perfect match.
“It brought tears to my eyes. I had originally gone to get tested and I wasn’t a match for him and my husband, who has medical issues, wasn’t able to be tested,” Brady said.
Since the procedure, Brady added that Liam has been able to get his weight up to a healthy level and is doing well.
For Durkin, the importance of organ donation is a no-brainer for Durkin.
“It’s weird to say that you’re saving someone’s life, but you really are and you’re changing someone’s quality of life,” she said. “There’s no more of a reason than that to do it. People on TV always preach about what can we do to change the world. This is something that can directly and instantly impact someone’s life. What is stopping me? And that’s how I felt when I found out I could help.”
For more information on Westchester Medical Center’s Transplant Center and links to ways to become an organ donor, visit https://www.westchestermedicalcenter.com/transplant.