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Glen Cove firefighter with a ‘great heart’ donates a kidney to a stranger

Firefighter Pete Prudente begins a donor chain

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Maryann Rich, a lifelong Glen Cover, receives a gift every year on Mother’s Day in the form of a plant, which is always waiting outside her front door. There is never a card or any kind of clue as to whom it’s from, but Rich said she doesn’t need any identifiers. She knows it’s from Pete Prudente, a Glen Cove firefighter who has become a friend of hers.

“All of us try to catch him each year, but we can’t,” said Rich, her blue eyes twinkling. “He is so thoughtful, a wonderful person that always takes care of everyone.”

Rich and a group of people that included some Glen Cove firefighters headed to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset last Friday for Organ Donor Day, which included a presentation that in part honored Prudente for another act of generosity. This time the gift was much bigger — a kidney, which he donated to a stranger on March 25, two days after he turned 59.

“It’s important that people step up and help each other,” said Prudente, a Local Union 15 operating engineer by profession. “My parents always told me there are givers and takers, and encouraged me to help others.”

Prudente prepares lunch — and donates the food — for the Glen Cove or Port Washington Veterans of Foreign Wars once a month. As well, he runs four blood drives in the Glen Cove area each year, and donates blood platelets twice a month. But he acknowledged that donating a kidney was the nicest thing he’s ever done. “And I feel great,” he said, adding that three weeks later, he was back to normal. “There’s nothing to be afraid about in donating.”

His original plan was to donate the kidney to a firefighter, but despite an 11-month search, the hospital couldn’t find a match. Prudente’s blood type, B negative, is rare, and at the one-year mark he would have had to undergo all the testing, which took two months, again.

Dr. Lewis Teperman, vice chairman of surgery and director of the Transplant Center at North Shore, said the hospital reached out to Prudente. “We asked him if he’d give this altruistic gift to someone else,” Teperman said. “It’s amazing to give an organ to someone you don’t know. You go under a knife and could die.”

Prudente agreed, but asked that the kidney recipient be someone with children.

Carmen Sanchez, 60, of Copiague, was a caregiver before she became too ill to work. Her daughter, Adriana Orellana, 20, promised Prudente that she, too, would donate a kidney if he would donate his to her mother. In the world of transplants, that’s referred to as a “donor chain.” To start a chain, the donor needs to be an “altruistic donor,” someone who donates to a stranger, like Prudente.

“Carmen was very ill, and I don’t think she would have lasted another week,” Prudente said. “I’m trying to get my story out so people will do this, too.”

New York state needs more people like Prudente, Teperman said.

Nationally, there are over 110,000 people waiting for organ donations, Alessandro Bellucci, North Shore’s executive director, said, but the list is being whittled down. In New York, however, where 12,000 people are waiting for organs, the list is lengthening. And only 35 percent of New Yorkers are registered as organ donors, the lowest percentage in the country.

“We, in New York, are not doing a great job,” Bellucci said. “Medicaid patients can’t go out of state, where the wait is shorter. People generally wait three to five years for a transplant here. There’s no reason to bury organs.”

The reason why there are so few donations, he said, is misinformation. People of all ages can be donors and still have a traditional funeral after their organs are harvested. And one donor can save up to eight people. In the case of kidneys, people need only one to survive.

Prudente said he wished he had five more kidneys, because he would donate again. Describing himself as a modest person, he amiably answered questions from television and print reporters outside the hospital. He smiled easily, and appeared to enjoy being in photos with fellow firefighters. But he is probably more comfortable secretly leaving plants in front of senior citizens’ homes on Mother’s Day than being the center of attention.

“Pete’s a class act,” said Karl Van Allen, a member of the GCFD for 47 years. “He’s always there for you, and for everybody. You can’t ask for a better person.”

Ex GCFD Chief Bill Basdavanos, another 47-year member, said he was hopeful that Prudente’s story would inspire others to donate kidneys.

Outside the hospital, Frank Petrizzo stood off to the side, watching, as people asked Prudente questions and requested that he pose for photos. Petrizzo, another Glen Cover who had recently undergone a kidney transplant, said he admired Prudente.

Prudente had contacted Petrizzo after reading about his struggles to find a kidney donor on Facebook. “He advocated for me,” Petrizzo said. “We weren’t a match, so he helped me with my fundraising. Pete Prudente is a great man, and he has a great heart.”