East Rockaway resident Joe Murphy, 55, wants nothing more than for spring to arrive so he can go to a Mets game with his wife, Jackie, and their sons Ryan, 20, and Colin, 17, to watch his beloved team play. But Murphy has a long way to go before he can attend another season-opener as he waits at home for a new heart and kidney.
Early last year, Joe, a healthy, hard-working car mechanic with the Long Island Rail Road, began to feel sick. “At first they thought it was a cold, then pneumonia,” Jackie recalled. “They weren’t sure what it was.”
After numerous doctor visits, Joe was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. While tests were conducted, it was discovered that he also had kidney cancer and his kidney had to be removed. He underwent surgery at New York–Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan last May.
“It was a dangerous operation to begin with, due to his weak heart,” Jackie said. “And during surgery there was another complication … a blood clot formed, causing damage to his remaining kidney.”
While recovering, Joe had a stroke, causing his already failing heart to weaken so badly that his only option was to use a left ventricular assist valve, a mechanical heart pump that he now must wear at all times.
An LVAD is a mechanical pump that is implanted inside the person’s chest to help a weakened heart pump blood. Unlike an artificial heart, the LVAD doesn’t replace the heart. It just helps it do its job.
Murphy was in and out of the hospital for five months. He’s now home, recovering from the stroke and hooked up to the LVAD as he tries to get healthy enough to be a candidate for lifesaving organs. He checks in at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, which is the nearest hospital that can monitor the pump. “If we lose electricity, he has to go to the firehouse,” said Jackie. “He’s also on blood thinner so if he gets cut, there’s blood all over.”
The Murphy family is financially strapped. Joe was able to use his sick leave and vacation, but they are still waiting for his disability to process — and not all of his treatments are covered by insurance. Jackie is also on permanent disability with the East Rockaway schools.
Lifelong residents, Joe and his wife, the former Jackie Irwin, also 55, met when they were children at St. Raymond’s Catholic School. They graduated from East Rockaway High School in 1979 — where Ryan also graduated in 2014, and Colin will graduate this year. They raised their family on West Boulevard in Bay Park, but lost many of their belongings in Hurricane Sandy in 2012. They stayed temporarily with Jackie’s parents, Mary Ann and Jack Irwin, in Rockville Centre, and are now back home on West Boulevard with their sons.
Friends, firefighters to the rescue
Ryan, a new member of the East Rockaway Fire Department, soon found help from his fellow firefighters, friends and neighbors.
“He let us know that his dad was really ill several months ago,” said Danielle Metzger. “Many of his friends donated money through a gofundme.com page that was set up, but as you know, when you’re that sick, the bills just kept stacking up.”
Metzger said that she and Ryan’s other friends started to brainstorm, and knew that other vendor-style fundraising events had been successful in the past. “We approached the Murphys and asked if they would allow us to help out,” she said. “I reached out to a bunch of vendors and created fliers, and so many people have contacted me and asked how they could help.”
Metzger added that this is the best part about growing up in a small, close-knit community. “Everyone pitches in,” she said. “You never have to face a problem alone.”
As for Joe, he has a long road ahead. A new heart and kidney would have to come from the same person, and he’s not healthy enough right now for surgery. “Ryan and Colin just stepped up to the plate,” said Jackie. “They’ve been great. We’re spending a lot of time together as a family — this brought the four of us much closer together. It’s a deeper love now.”
What: Fundraiser boutique
When: Sunday., Jan. 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
13 Grant Ave.
Details: Raffle baskets, vendors, including Pampered Chef, Danielle’s Dandys, Lularoe, Just Pawfection, and more.
For more information, call Danielle Metzger at