Family matters: Marine donates kidney to save niece

Stephen Mohamed consistently answered the call while serving in the US Marine Corps. Perhaps the most important call came from his 13-year-old niece.

At 6-foot, 245-pounds, Stephen Mohamed can seem rather imposing. His shoulders and biceps are draped in detailed tattoos.

Inside him, though, is one of the biggest hearts you could encounter. And he’s used it throughout his life and during his time in the US Marine Corps.

Stationed at Camp Gonsalves in Northern Okinawa’s jungle, Mr. Mohamed never hesitated to assist his fellow Marines — regardless of the task. He even helped save the lives of 15 Marines as an instructor to water-born exercises.

Little did he know then, he’d also need to save his 13-year-old niece, Lanai.

Lanai suffers from IgA nephropathy (also known as Berger’s disease) — a kidney disorder that occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A lodges in your kidneys. Both of her kidneys were shutting down. She needed a transplant.

"My sister called me up and said you should start looking to see if you can donate a kidney," Stephen said. "I didn’t even think about it. I told her ‘say no more. I’ll do it.'"

The perfect match

Eligible for discharge from the Marines in July 2017, Stephen took leave from the Marines in June to complete match testing and blood work.

"I found out I was eligible when I went back into the Marine Corps but I couldn’t make any plans," he said. "I had to finish my last month. It is a long process to get out.

"The Marine Corps isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle. You don’t just quit."

That never relent attitude is how Stephen is built. Humble. Generous. Family-oriented. In talking to him, his willingness to sacrifice for others abounds.

He will miss aspects of the Marine Corps. But he said the decision to leave was simple.

"I’ll remember the people [in the Marines] more than anything," he said. "I miss all of them. I know they would take a bullet for me just like I would take a bullet for them.

"To me, this [donating an organ] is normal. You are supposed to do this for family."

Strong family ties

Stephen’s family is growing yet extremely close. He is one of six children and he has 13 nieces and nephews (No. 14 is on the way).

Personal ribbings permeate family gatherings. No one is pardoned, even his friends.

"When we sit down, we make fun of each other," he said of his family. "It’s just how it is. Anytime my friends came over, they would say ‘your family is weird.’ It’s just how it is here."

On October 2, Stephen and Lanai had the transplant procedure. Stephen’s sisters — Marcelle, Michelle and Melinda — were all together as Stephen was admitted to Long Island Jewish Medical Center and Lanai to Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

Giving life

Nerves never suppressed Stephen’s spirit. He’s always had a calm demeanor, especially around family.

He remained composed throughout the transplant process and approaching the procedure, the sixth completed at Cohen Children’s and second from a living donor. Three days later, Stephen was discharged. He said Lenai was also doing well.

While Stephen’s rehab will take three months, doctors said he can begin moving in a month. It’s a slow recovery and he plans to apply to Queensborough Community College to pursue a teaching career when ready.

For someone with a lifetime of giving to others, it’s the perfect profession.

"I gave my kidney to my niece. It’s not a big deal," he said "People tell me I’m courageous or a hero. This isn’t something you think about. It’s family. It’s just what you do."

Cohen Children's Medical Center started performing kidney transplants in 2017.

Organ donation saves lives.