Memorial Day had always been a momentous occasion for James Donohue, going back to when his father would take him to watch the soldiers march in the Bayside parade. When he became a Vietnam veteran, the holiday took on more meaning.
But this year may be the most special yet for the Bayside resident.
The 55-year-old had been diagnosed with heart disease and had been on dialysis for 14 months after his kidneys shut down when a conversation with his drinking buddy and fellow Vietnam vet William Kelly inside a Bayside pub changed his life forever.
Donohue never asked Kelly to donate his kidney, but when he complained about being on dialysis, his friend gave little thought to giving him a new lease on life.
"One day we were having a couple of beers watching Sunday football," Donohue said. "The next thing I knew he was a 100 percent match. Like finding a needle in a haystack."
Kelly, a Flushing resident who like Donohue is a former Marine sergeant, said it was an easy decision to donate his kidney.
"I think it's the greatest gift you can give," he said.
"His last words to me [before the operation] were, 'No guts, no glory. Let's go,'" Donohue said.
Had it not been for his friend's donation, Donohue was looking at a seven- to nine-year wait for a kidney.
As he took the podium last week during a news conference at North Shore University Hospital to tell his story and encourage the public to become kidney donors, Donohue frequently referred to Kelly as "a man of few words."
"Fate brought us together," Donohue said, describing the bond between Marines. "That man of a few but honorable words gave my life back to me."
Donohue's wife, Marianne, called Kelly's donation "one of the most selfless acts any individual can do.
"Billy Kelly is my hero," she said. "Knowing that they are Marines — brothers — I shouldn't have been surprised. The Marine brotherhood is just so, so strong."
"I think it's a wonderful story by where we're able to see how a great heart lives in the body of these two great patriots," said Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, the North Shore surgeon who performed the transplant six weeks ago.
Both men are doing well following the operation, he said.
While the Bayside parade is no longer held, Donohue planned to attend the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.
©2008 Community News Group
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