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‘A great public servant’ needs help from his community

Tony Jimenez in dire need of a kidney

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Tony Jimenez is familiar to many in the City of Glen Cove. He has been involved in city government, is an emergency medical technician and helps at-risk youth.

Known for his generosity of spirit, he is someone people turn to for help, regardless of how well they know him. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a friend for 25 years, described Jimenez as a “great public servant.” Now the Vietnam veteran, who served his country and continues to give to his community, needs help. Jimenez, 69, desperately needs a kidney. Doctors have told him that if he does not receive one, he will likely not survive.

Jimenez joined the Army when he graduated from high school in 1969. He served for two years, one as an infantryman in Vietnam, and eventually became a sergeant. Like so many other soldiers, he was exposed to Agent Orange, and by 1980 he had diabetes, which led to kidney failure two years ago. Knowing how his life would change once he underwent dialysis, he said, he put it off as long as he could. But his kidneys weren’t functioning, and filled with so much fluid that he suffered congestive heart failure. In September he began dialysis, having been told that if he didn’t, he would die.

Because doctors have given him six to nine years to live, he was denied inclusion on a list to receive a kidney from a cadaver donor. There is no living donor list. Jimenez has been looking for a kidney donor with type A negative blood ever since.

There are several tests a potential kidney recipient must undergo. During Jimenez’s physical workup, he had an angiogram, and doctors found three blocked coronary arteries. He could not be considered for a kidney transplant, they said, until his heart issue was resolved. So, in February, he had open-heart surgery.

That wasn’t his first operation. After working at ground zero in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he was diagnosed with lung disease. And he suffered a stroke in 2013.

‘He helped so many people’

Jimenez was one of the first people in Glen Cove to respond on Sept. 11. He began working at what was then known simply as the pile that night. The next day, he drove back in to Lower Manhattan and joined the bucket brigade. “It reminded me of Vietnam,” he said. “Sometimes [in Vietnam] we’d lose people and couldn’t find them. We’d come back days later and smell for them. I’d find body parts, which we did on the pile, too.”

The city had two ferries at the time, which brought those who were fleeing the attacks from Manhattan to Long Island. The plan, recalled Suozzi, who was mayor at the time, was to bring the wounded to Glen Cove Hospital.

“We had heard rumors, and needed to know what was going on, Suozzi said. “Tony was the first to respond and volunteer to go there. Tony is paying the price now.”

The Jimenez family was originally from the projects in Manhattan before moving to Levittown. Tony was always quiet, according to his older brother Phil. “He helped so many people and did so much without fanfare,” Phil said. “I remember kids were being picked on when we lived in the city, and when we moved to Long Island. Tony told the guys to stop, that what they were doing wasn’t right. One time he was only 10.”

Jimenez moved to Glen Cove in 1980. He was a surgical technician for 26 years, and became a court officer for the city in 1988. He joined the Fire Department as an emergency medical technician in 1994, and said he was proud that he assisted in the delivery of seven children.

For a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, he went to work during the day as a court officer, and then headed to Lower Manhattan at night. Eventually he was assigned to ground zero, because court officers were being asked to assist the police. He never found anyone alive in the wreckage.

His experiences, starting with Vietnam, have left him with physical as well as emotional scars, he said. “I still think of 9/11 a lot,” he said. “I was diagnosed with PTSD and underwent counseling. I lost friends in the military, but most of the pieces of bodies we found on Sept. 11 were from everyday New Yorkers — your neighbor.” 

“Tony keeps things to himself,” said his older brother Phil. “When he found out he had to have open-heart surgery, he knew my wife and I were going on a cruise. He made sure we were on the ship, and then said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m having open-heart surgery tomorrow.’”

Giving others hope

Jimenez was a Glen Cove city councilman from 2000 to 2014. Then, even after losing an election, he was asked to return a year later, when Councilman Nick DiLeo died.

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, who described Jimenez as her best friend, said they went door to door together when they were running for City Council.

“He casually told me he had Type 1 diabetes, which my daughter has,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “I was so amazed he was able to accomplish so much having that. He never let his diabetes stop him, and has done more than most people I know that are healthy.”

His ability to be so active comforted her, DeRiggi-Whitton said. She began to believe that her daughter could live a normal life as well.

Jimenez can be found at most ceremonies in Glen Cove, but especially those for veterans. Phil said his brother has always been extremely patriotic. “Even after his heart surgery in February, he went to an event, and should not have been there,” Phil said. “People were holding him up.”

Dialysis has weakened Jimenez considerably. He goes three days a week for three and a half hours. He insists it isn’t that bad, but it does hinder his activity. He misses going on vacation, he said.

As he waits for a kidney his wife, Kathy, a retired registered nurse, said her husband is more withdrawn. “I think he’s closing himself into a little cocoon,” she said. “Physically, I’m seeing his limitations. The day in between dialysis he has more strength, and we try to make the best of things.”

Glen Cove firefighter Pete Prudente donated a kidney to a stranger in March 2019. “I feel fine,” he said. “Living with one kidney hasn’t changed my life in any way. I try to advocate for others to do this.”

Prudente is helping to spread the word around town that his friend needs a kidney. “I’m in the process of making T-shirts right now,” Prudente said. “It will say, ‘My friend needs a kidney.’”   

Jimenez is hopeful that someone will help him soon. “There was a reason why I survived in Vietnam and others didn’t,” he said. “Maybe the reason is to do my best for humanity.”