Shane Duffy of Little Falls said he and his sister Traci are the “bookends” of the family—he is the youngest and she is the oldest. But the two have shared a special bond ever since then-22-year-old Shane donated his kidney in 2003 to save the life of his big sister, who was then 30.
The siblings celebrate the 10-year-anniversary of Traci Duffy's transplant Wednesday.
“My sister made good use of the gift from my brother," said Megan Duffy, another sibling and a clinical psychologist who has studied how donation can affect family dynamics. "A Hopatcong High School teacher and a tennis coach, she is a ball of energy. Because of this gift, Traci was able to get married, and also be maid of honor at my wedding."
Traci Duffy's health problems began when she was a teen. She became very ill and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that attacked her liver. She received a liver transplant at the age of 20 and for years was healthy and moving forward with her life.
Eventually side effects of the medication related to the liver transplant began to affect her kidneys. She became ill again and learned that she would need a kidney transplant to survive.
“I was doing so well; I thought I just had a virus. I was shocked to learn that my kidneys weren't working,” she recalled.
Everyone in the family—her mother, father, siblings and stepfather—was tested to determine the best match. Amazingly, six acceptable matches were found, but the perfect match was Shane Duffy, the member of the family who feared hospitals.
“I remember thinking, 'Watch, it will be me.' And it was," he recalled. "I just knew it. When I told my mom she started crying."
Megan Duffy said the family was aware of his deep-seated fear.
“No one wanted it to be my youngest brother," she said. "We knew Shane was scared. There was a lot of pressure on him. No one meant to put pressure on him, but he was the perfect match.
"He was the guy.”
After thinking long and hard, Shane Duffy decided to donate his kidney. His one request to his sister: Do everything possible to remain healthy.
“At first I remember saying, 'I take better care of myself than you do,'" Traci Duffy said. "But I did promise to drink enough water and do everything right. I knew this was tough for him.
"It was tough for both of us," she added. "I am the oldest and very independent. It is difficult to know that you have to rely on someone else. It was difficult for me to say to my brother, 'I need this.'"
The surgery was booked for Sept. 11, and at first the patient was hesitant.
"But I decided that a date known for so much pain should be known for something good as well, and I accepted the date," she said.
The surgery was a success.
“Today Shane and I joke. He will say, 'Hey, sis. You are sporting around with my kidney. I don't need to get you a Christmas present this year,'” she said.
Shane Duffy said the experience helped him face his fears and find strength in himself. And it's brought all of the Duffy siblings closer; this summer they all vacationed together on North Carolina’s Outerbanks.
In the end, Shane Duffy's decision a decade ago to give his big sister the gift of life makes him proud.
“I mean, it's awesome,” he said. “How many people get to do that?”
To learn more about organ and tissue donation visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.