Transplant brings couple closer after 35 years of marriage

Russell Allen describes his experience of undergoing a kidney transplant at North Shore University Hospital as his wife Bonnie, who donated her kidney to him, looks on. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
By Howard Koplowitz

Russell Allen got his wife’s kidney as a gift for his 35th wedding anniversary, but he said he was the one who was doing his wife a favor.

Allen, a Jamaica resident who needed a kidney transplant after suffering from renal failure last year, said he was reluctant to let his wife, Bonnie Allen, donate her kidney to him because he was concerned her health would deteriorate following the operation.

“I just didn’t want to see something happen to her by making this sacrifice,” he said.

“It took a lot of convincing,” Russell Allen said. “My wife has never asked me for anything in life. At that point, I realized it was that important to her.”

From his wife’s perspective, her decision to donate her kidney was easy.

“My only hope and prayer would be that I was an acceptable donor,” Bonnie Allen said. “So it was an easy choice for me.”

Last year, Russell Allen suffered kidney failure due to high blood pressure, which he was diagnosed with as a teenager. He went on dialysis in June before the March 9 transplant operation.

The Allens celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary Feb. 23.

A devout Jehovah’s Witness, Russel Allen was referred by his doctor to the kidney transplant program at North Shore University Hospital in part because doctors there accommodated requests stemming from his religious beliefs.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions in the case of an emergency during an operation, although there were no complications during Allen’s procedure.

“The results of the transplant were incredible,” he said, noting he has more energy and his bones are stronger.

The Allens and other organ donors and recipients were honored last week at North Shore, where the hospital encouraged more people to sign up for transplant programs.

Michael Dowling, the chief executive officer of the North Shore−Long Island Jewish Health System, said the system had 30 people donate their organs that were used in 70 life−saving operations last year.

“The extraordinary benefits of this is something that we should be extremely proud of,” he said. “We are saving lives that otherwise would not be saved.”

Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, the surgical director of the health system’s transplant center and the doctor who operated on the Allens, said the center’s work has helped changed lives.

“We’ve freed so many individuals from the chains of chronic illness,” he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

More from Around New York