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‘It was meant to be’: Kidney donation unites NY woman, FL teacher

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New York (WPIX) – A teacher in Florida desperate to find a match after years of painful dialysis found his “savior” in a New York woman who, seemingly on a whim, decided to save someone’s life.

Last fall, Torrey Green – a middle school teacher who had been on dialysis for almost 7 years – needed a lifesaving kidney transplant as soon as possible.

He’d already faced so many disappointments. Three donors had backed out, and his own family wouldn’t help him.

He tried to deal with all the sad drama, telling PIX11’s Help Me Howard, “I’ve got a great job that I love …so I just have to focus on these things.”

Green came to PIX11 after we featured a young man from Queens who desperately needed a transplant. When Alan Finkelstein found his donor, we send all those generous could-be donors who’d tested for Finkelstein over to Green.

It looked like one person would be a match. But Green’s hopes were dashed when that turned out not to be the case. He needed a miracle. And he found that miracle in Sara Toffoli.

She was in her New Jersey home watching the story last fall. In the back of her mind, she’d been thinking about donating a kidney for a while.

“When I saw Torrey I said this is the person I’ve been waiting for,” Toffoli told PIX11. “I can’t put it into words. There’s just something about him that I was drawn to email you.”

Her husband, Greg, had fallen asleep on the couch while Sara was watching our story. When he awoke they said their conversation went something like this:

Sara: “I said I’m thinking about donating a kidney.”

Greg: “The first reaction, of course, was are you mad?”

Sara: “He was a little speechless.”

Greg: “To have blood type, tissue type matching is probably not going to happen. So I forgot about it for a while.”

Sara went ahead and tested. She was a match for Torrey.

But Torrey’s illness had drained his finances. He needed money to come to New York for the transplant and aftercare. That’s where his colleagues at work, his students and their parents stepped up.

“One kid on his own raised $10,000. Another parent put me into a hotel for a month and that was about $11,000. Another parent, Rhonda Levine, started a bank account for people to contribute $8,600,” Green recalled, his voice quavering.

When Green and Toffoli went for prep work before the transplant, they saw each other at the New York Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medical Center. She couldn’t be sure he was the recipient. He couldn’t be sure she was the donor. But somehow they knew.

They’re similar in many ways. Both had touch childhoods. Both speak with candor. But Green is still overwhelmed by Toffoli’s generosity for a perfect stranger.

“What an amazing person to just come forward and say here,” he said. “I mean my relatives wouldn’t do it. And I don’t know that I would do it.”

The Weill Cornell transplant center has a top flight medical staff and does amazing transplant work on a regular basis. So, it’s no surprise that the actual surgery went well.

They met up in the hospital the next day.

Green’s words for his donor: “You’re my angel, my hero, my savior.”

Toffoli was back home in a couple of days. Green was out of the hospital a few days later. He’ll be in New York for post-transplant follow up until about the end of July. Of course, from now on he’ll be on special medication.

PIX11 brought the pair back together two weeks after the procedure.

Green was emotional.

“I just feel like a new person. I feel young again. I feel free. I feel like I have been in prison for seven years,” he said. “Now I’m fine. I have my life. I’m just so happy, so grateful. You saved my life.”

Toffoli was a little more reserved but seemed happy with her new lifelong role as Green’s “kidney-in-law.”

“If it’s meant to be, it’s mean to be. And it was meant to be,” she laughed.

They toasted the lifesaving success with orange juice, something Torrey had been craving for years but couldn’t have when he was on dialysis.

This is a story we’re so happy to do. And we’d be remiss not to mention Chaya Lipschutz of Kidney Mitzvah and Lauren Finkelstein of Save One Person whose efforts helped make this happen.

By Howard Thompson