Mary’s O’ Connor’s story began less than six months ago, when for the first of three times she heard the simple, straightforward words: “Donate a Kidney” as she prayed at daily Mass. By the third time the call was repeated, she gave up trying to brush it off and set out on an adventure no human being could possibly have contrived.
By the end of September, Mary had gotten leave from her employer – Neary’s on East 57th Street – been matched in the nationwide Swap and Exchange program at New York Presbyterian Hospital and, thus, been paired with potential recipients that included a treasured friend of her friend and advocate Una Neary. Ultimately her kidney, donated in a surgery at NYPH, was accepted that same day and was functioning normally in a 50-year-old man in Florida. His wife was so inspired that she donated one of her kidneys to someone else, and the circle of healing grew. An upcoming Today Show segment will include Mary, Una, and others who illustrate the theme “a person who has done something exceptional in life.”
Mary O’Connor has regularly, you might say routinely, attended the first morning Mass at one of the two churches of her Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and Catherine of Siena over the past 40 years. So presumably after she had heard the scripture readings at the 7 a.m. Mass one day just over six months, nothing had prepared her to hear another unspoken message that was anything but routine.
The “message” Mary heard that day was as direct, uncomplicated and straightforward as the woman herself. “Donate a kidney.”
Since she was hurrying to the iconic Neary’s Restaurant to oversee the serving of an important business lunch, she tried to brush off what she had heard and get on with her life. That was not to be. So, when the message Mary recalls as “something, not a voice she heard in her head” had been delivered for the second and then finally the third time, she concluded that she had no alternative but to do some research and try to figure out what in the world was occurring in her life.
First she requested and immediately received assurance from Una Neary (financial advisor and daughter to Neary’s founder “Jimmy,”) that she could count on having as much time as needed to pursue this miracle of generosity. Moreover, Una immediately volunteered to be Mary’s, the tiny dynamo of donation, personal advocate.
With all that arranged, Mary took herself to the 8th floor of NYPH where a brilliant organ donation unit under coordinator Marion Charlton achieves daily miracles through a “Swap and Exchange” initiative that is a model for similarly named units at leading hospitals throughout the nation. Mary quickly learned that Marion, born in Ireland’s County Kerry, would become the trusted medical advocate to a fellow Irishwoman born in Marion’s neighboring County Cork. Assuring all around her that this was “something no human being could have gotten together,” the conspiracy of life saving and healing began.
The next step was to find the medical path through a program of research and exploration to determine whether her “message” to donate a kidney would be approved.
The modus operandi for the Swap and Exchange program begins by forming groups of potential donors and recipients who share a blood type. Later the matches are considered for compatibility of tissue and body mass. That last became an issue when Mary learned that Dan Ferguson, a great friend of the Neary family, had been suffering from kidney disease, was undergoing daily dialysis and was on a waiting list for a kidney. Of course, none of this is surprising in a world where it’s clear that there are no coincidences. Mary immediately signaled her willingness to be Dan’s donor and he was moved from a waiting list to Mary’s Swap and Exchange unit. But the diminutive 4’ 11” 95-pound Mary was no match for the six foot plus Dan.
Not deterred, Mary moved with new determination through the medical, psychological, and social screenings required for her to be fully cleared to be a donor.
On her August 15, 2018 birthday Mary had completed the last “make or break” kidney function tests and was told she would likely hear in a matter of days if she was fully cleared to be a donor. But not surprisingly, her phone rang at 4:30 that same afternoon with the news that all was a “go” and she could be scheduled for a September 12 surgery at NYPH. She was able to give the news to Una and her father who were about to begin a three-week visit to Ireland. Learning that they would be back in time to witness what Jimmy Neary described as “A Miracle” and “Divine Inspiration,” the travelers set off.
Fast forward, and in rapid succession:
- Dan Ferguson learns he will receive a donation from a 30-year old man in California;
- Mary learns that her healthy kidney will be flown on September 12 to a man in Florida;
- The Florida recipient’s wife is so inspired by Mary’s gift that she volunteers to begin the Swap and Exchange process as soon as she has spent one month participating in her husband’s recovery.
Is it any wonder that when Kathie Lee Gifford came to Neary’s one late August day she heard the story of Mary’s gift and declared on the spot that Kathie Lee and Hoda, the fourth hour of NBC’s Today Show simply had to tell Mary’s story? It is presently scheduled for the November 16 “Everyone has a Story” segment of their continuing series about people who have done something exceptional in their lives.
One final amazement is that Mary had not acquainted herself with the details of kidney donation before she received her persistent and miraculous message earlier this year. And so, she was not familiar with the information that kidneys from living, healthy donors produce their life-giving properties for twice as long as ones “harvested” after the donor’s death.
Unphased by any and all challenges that might come to her after her “message” Mary rises to her full 4 feet, 11 inch height and responds to those who ask her, “Were you, are you not afraid?” with this simple, very human message: “I’m afraid of nothing!”