‘It was meant to be’: Florida teacher finds angel in NJ kidney donor

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NEW YORK (PIX11) --  Sometimes you're really lucky to be able to do a story. That was the case with this one. It was a pleasure to be able to do.

But it didn't start that way.

Back in October, we told you about Torrey Green, a middle school art teacher in Boca Raton, Florida. He'd been on dialysis for almost seven years and needed a lifesaving kidney transplant as soon as possible.

He'd already faced so many disappointments. Three donors had backed out. He tells us his own family wouldn't help him.

He tried to deal with all the sad drama, telling us, "I've got a great job that I love, so I just have to focus on these things."

We'd gotten involved with Torrey on a fluke. We actually did a piece about Alan Finkelstein, a young man from Queens who needed a transplant. After our story aired he found a donor elsewhere. So we knew about Torrey and referred all the people who'd tested for Alan over to him.

It looked like one person would be a match. But Torrey's hopes were dashed when that turned out not to be the case. He needed a miracle.

And he got it in Sara Toffoli.

She was in her New Jersey home watching the story we did on Torrey last fall. In the back of her mind, she'd been thinking about donating a kidney for a while. Something clicked.

"When I saw Torrey I said 'this is the person I've been waiting for,'" Sara told us. "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 say 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 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."

Just thinking about it, Torrey gets choked up. You should look at the video to get a sense of it that can't really be conveyed in print.

Same thing with the bond that's developed between Torrey and Sara.

When they went for prep work before the transplant, they actually 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 Torrey is still overwhelmed by Sara's generosity for a perfect stranger.

"What an amazing person to just come forward and say here. 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 got together in the hospital the next day.

Torrey's words for Sara: "You're my angel, my hero, my savior."

Sara was back home in a couple of days. Torrey, 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 medications.

We brought them back together two weeks after the procedure.

Torrey 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 (chokes up) you know on dialysis and now I'm fine. I have my life. I'm just so happy, so grateful. You saved my life."

Sara was a little more reserved but seemed happy with her new lifelong role as Torrey's "kidney-in-law."

"If it's meant to be, it's mean to be. And it was meant to be!" she laughed.

We 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.

Likewise, we should underscore the tremendous work that the New York Presbyterian surgeons and medical staff do.

They're among the best in the world. Unfortunately, some of the PR people and administrators don't seem interested in promoting their lifesaving work to let more people know about it.

When we communicated with the hospital, the lack of response to some of our emails was downright rude. Sorry, but that's the best way to describe it.

We won't let that deter us from talking about the hospital's great work and the opportunity you have to help save lives. If you'd like more information about kidney donation, just email us at howardshelpers@pix11.com.

1 Comment

  • Kathie Reilly, LCSW

    I am Torrey’s first dialysis Social Worker. I am so happy for him; I am crying right now as I read this.

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