Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The gift of health for Valentine’s Day

February 13. 2014 10:11PM

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KINGSTON — A local couple will be apart on Valentine’s Day, but one of them says they couldn’t possibly be any closer in one sense.

Stephanie Phillips, 28, of Kingston, has had Type I diabetes since she was a teenager. She developed stage 4 kidney disease and needed a transplant. She said her kidney was barely functioning at 21 percent, and she was close to needing dialysis.

Her boyfriend of almost three years — Erick Ramunni, 31, of Kingston — got tested to see if his kidney was match without telling Stephanie. He was and on Feb. 4 one of Ramunni’s kidneys was transplanted into Phillips.

Ramunni never questioned the idea.

“I just pretty much made up my mind — I love her,” he said. He also wanted to help Phillips overcome one of the many complications due to her diabetes. “Hey, if I can get rid of one of those problems, then I will.”

Phillips had no idea that her boyfriend got tested. When she learned that he did, and that he would be giving her one of his kidneys, she was overwhelmed.

“I didn’t even know what to say,” Phillips said. “I never thought anyone would ever do anything like that.”

Antonio Di Carlo, the chief of abdominal organ transplants at Temple Health, did the procedure at the medical facility in Philadelphia. He said given Phillips’ young age, and the effects of dialysis on the body, the operation was vital for her.

“For all age groups, the survival for patients with Type 1 diabetes mellitus on hemodialysis is 5 percent,” Di Carlo said.

Di Carlo also called Ramunni’s act “remarkable.” He said he has done donations between married spouses, and that the wife usually donates to the husband. Up until recently, he had never performed a transplant between a boyfriend and girlfriend.

“Anybody that would consider donating an organ is pretty much a hero,” Di Carlo said.

Phillips spent two nights in the intensive care unit after the procedure. Since then, she has shown improvements, and said that her doctors have told her she is on the path to a new life.

“I feel much better than I did the first time when I got out,” Phillips said.

The kidney disease is not Phillips’ only complication due to diabetes. In 2012, an infection that began in her toe eventually spread, leading to her left leg being amputated below the knee. She had to endure months of physical therapy, but she can now walk well using a prosthetic leg.

She has taken the experience in stride.

“It has its ups and its downs, but I managed to do good with it,” she said.

Phillips is recovering at the Gift of Life Family House in Philadelphia. The facility serves patients and caregivers either waiting for or undergoing an organ transplant at one of Philadelphia’s eight transplant centers.

Meanwhile, Ramunni is resting at home.

“It’s great — we can’t get any closer together now,” Ramunni joked.

He added that the operation brought them closer together as a couple.

Though the couple will be apart on Valentine’s Day, Ramunni vowed that they would celebrate as soon as Phillips returned home. Phillips looks forward to that.

“He says he has surprises for me, so we’ll see,” she said.

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