The Club Fit Blog

November 27, 2019 by Karen Ireton

Club Fit’s Lisa Fitzgerald Donates Kidney to Family Friend

Lisa Fitzgerald’s gift gave James Cancro Sr. a new lease on life

Like many of our exceptional staff, Club Fit’s Lisa Fitzgerald enjoys helping people. But this past summer, Lisa took that to another level. When she heard a co-worker’s husband desperately needed a kidney from a compatible donor, she stepped up and volunteered to be tested. A variety of factors are involved in determining compatibility, and chances one will match to a specific recipient are relatively low. Incredibly, Lisa was indeed a match!

Lisa and James Sr. are all smiles on Lisa's birthday, just 12 days post-surgery. Photo courtesy Rick Pezzullo. Examiner Media
Lisa and James Sr. are all smiles on Lisa’s birthday, just 12 days post-surgery. Photo courtesy Rick Pezzullo, Examiner Media

The Cancro family had put the word out through various local media outlets, including the Northern Westchester Examiner, that both James Sr. and his son, James Jr., were affected by focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FGS), and both were in need of transplants. James Sr.’s wife, also named Lisa, shared the family’s situation with her co-workers at Tom Thumb preschool in Mohegan Lake.

The family was hoping to find living donors to increase chances of long-term viability. As Lisa Cancro  opens in a new windowsaid, they were looking for “…someone who maybe really wants to make difference, or save a life. I know people out there that want to do something like this.”

James Sr. had previously received an organ transplant from a deceased donor, but that transplant was unsuccessful.

After the initial determination of compatibility, Lisa had to undergo still more tests to make sure there were no other issues which might interfere with the procedure. Donors are also given counseling to ensure they are aware of any possible complications, no matter how slight the chances. “At one point,” Lisa recounts “one of the tests showed I might have an elevated risk of developing diabetes later in life, which could have the potential to impair kidney function.” The medical team insisted Lisa follow up with her doctor before being allowed to proceed.

Once Lisa’s physician gave her the go-ahead, there was one final hurdle to clear. The family still had not found a matching donor for their son. The Cancros wanted to ensure both father and son had viable donors before proceeding. Also, after the discouragement of the first transplant not taking, they wanted James Jr. to see his father undergo a successful surgery before proceeding with his own. In light of this, and to prevent the family from possible disappointment, the family’s medical team had not yet let James Sr. know Lisa had been cleared.

In the meantime, a tentative surgery date was planned for July 1st. With the school being closed over the summer that was the optimal time for Lisa to undergo the procedure. Normally donors are only out of work for a few days post-surgery, but working at a preschool, as any mom knows, can be an exceptionally physically demanding job.

On June 21st, the last day of school, as Lisa was closing up her classroom for the summer, the call came — they had found a donor for James Jr.! Just hours before they left to begin their summer break, Lisa was able to give Lisa Cancro the good news. Lisa Cancro asked her to come to the Cancro’s home later that night to deliver the news to James Sr. in person. Surgery was scheduled for July 1st — just 10 days away — at Westchester Medical Center. As the day drew close, Lisa was more excited than nervous. “The night before the surgery, my husband thought I’d want to relax at home. I told him we needed to go out to dinner so I could have a distraction from thinking about it!”

The procedure itself was, as Lisa puts it, “uneventful.” She took a walk from her room to James’ the next day to see how he was doing after his own operation. Happily, this time his transplant was a success. And James Jr. received his new kidney one month later.

For Lisa, who also served as a surrogate for her sister’s three children, it was just the natural thing to do. Not long ago, she received a thankful text from Lisa Cancro. Lisa and James had spent the weekend out and about, doing typical fall weekend activities that a few months ago would have been impossible for them. For Lisa Fitzgerald, hearing that made it all worthwhile.

Lisa has also become an advocate for the  opens in a new windowliving donor program, proudly wearing her donor pin and sharing her story so others might be more willing to participate should the opportunity arise. So if you see her at our reception desk and want to know more about her experience, feel free to ask! 


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