Kidney Donor Surprises Her Recipient with In-Person Visit for the Holidays

Albert Gabay and kidney donor Jennifer Wolfe share a happy moment during press conference at North Shore University Hospital.

The holidays came early for two families who were brought together by Blood Type O, Frank Sinatra and the sincere desire to do random acts of kindness.
    
During a press conference held at North Shore University Hospital on Friday, Albert Gabay, 67, of Merrick, LI, his wife, Lucy, and their son Brian, shared the story of Mr. Gabay’s desperate need for a kidney transplant just two years ago. The fact that the Israeli-born Mr. Gabay was in end-stage kidney failure, compounded with his extremely rare Blood Type O, made transplantation even more tenuous.

His son, Brian, a public relations, professional, decided to help by writing a letter to matchingdonors.com, a website designed for people who want to be altruistic donors. As Brian told a room filled with reporters: “My father is the best man I know and my best friend. He’s the type of person who would give the shirt off his back to help someone else. I was hoping for a miracle.”

Fortunately, that miracle came in the person of Jennifer Wolfe, a Georgia resident, who was aware of the website. Ms. Wolfe, a devout Christian, wanted to instill in her children the need to do random acts of kindness.

“When I read Brian’s letter, I knew Albert was the person to whom I would donate,” said Ms. Wolfe. “I want to lead my children by example. It’s important for them to know that people must be kind to each other. There was no question that I would give Albert my kidney.”

The story took another miraculous turn when medical testing revealed that Ms. Wolfe was also Blood Type O, which meant that she was a perfect match. The transplant took place on June 3, 2015, at North Shore University Hospital, and today, as Mr. Gabay sees it, “he’s a very blessed man.”

As time went on, Ms. Wolfe and her husband, Josh, became very close the Gabay family. She refers to Albert as “abba,” (the Hebrew word for ‘father’) and Lucy as “Mama.” They communicate via Facebook and texts; they all plan to travel to Israel together in the near future.

But, the story doesn’t end there. The Gabays’ tale made the rounds on social media, and Brian was asked to compete on a reality show called “Home Free,” in which two teams faced-off for a chance to have a new home built for their hero. Brian competed and won … naturally, he chose Jennifer as his hero.

Ms. Wolfe, her husband, and her three children moved into their new home in September. As a way to show their gratitude to the Gabays, they planned a surprise that unfolded during the press event. Mr. Gabay was expecting to see the Wolfe family in their new home via a remote computer hook-up. (He had been practicing Frank Sinatra’s version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” for the occasion, since he and Ms. Wolfe also share a love for Ol’ Blue Eyes).

Expecting a computer technician to walk through the closed door, Ms. Wolfe and her husband entered the room to a sea of cameras. During their emotional reunion, Mr. Gabay said that it was like having one of his own daughters come home.

According to Ms. Wolfe, her decision to be an altruistic donor was one of the best she ever made. “I might have lost a part of my body, but I gained so much more,” she said. “The Gabays are my family now. I not only won a new home … I won the world.”

Ernesto Molmenti, MD, Director of the Transplant Center, Northwell Health, performed the transplant surgery that today allows Mr. Gabay to “live a happy, healthy life.”

“We are so happy to share the story of Mr. Gabay and his beautiful family,” said Dr. Molmenti, “This is such a perfect blending of the Christmas and Chanukah spirit. Traditionally, Christmas is a time when we think of peace, compassion and sharing; Chanukah is a time of liberation and enlightenment. When you think of it, what could be more liberating than a lifetime of continued good health?”

From the medical standpoint, Dr. Molmenti emphasized that this is an excellent example of altruistic organ donation. “It’s so important for people to know that a healthy person can live a perfect life with just one functioning kidney,” Dr. Molmenti said.

Armed with pictures of her new home, Ms. Wolfe happily hugged Mr. Gabay as he serenaded her in person. The two families eagerly posed for pictures together, and left the event.

Attention media: Photos and video clips, including interviews and B-roll from the event, are available. Click here to download.

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About Northwell Health
Northwell Health is New York State’s largest health care provider and private employer, with 21 hospitals and over 550 outpatient practices. We care for more than two million people annually in the metro New York area and beyond, thanks to philanthropic support from our communities. Our 61,000 employees – 15,000+ nurses and nearly 3,400 physicians, including nearly 2,700 members of Northwell Health Physician Partners -- are working to change health care for the better. We’re making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and the School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. And we offer health insurance through CareConnect. For information on our more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu.

Contact:     
Michelle Pinto     
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About the Northwell Health Transplant Center

The surgeons at the Northwell Health Transplant Center provide kidney transplantation services and living donor services for patients with many different types of kidney diseases.