Anthony M Saving the Life of a Lifesaver

“I’ve always had a good feeling about the hospital, and when I spoke to the people at the transplant center, I felt at ease. The staff was wonderful.”

A firefighter gets a new kidney—and bonds with donor.

Anthony Maiolo has never been one to complain. Even when his left leg needed to be amputated below the knee in 2019 due to a nonhealing infection caused by Type 2 diabetes, he handled it pragmatically.

“It was my choice,” says the 49-year-old Lodi resident, a veteran volunteer firefighter and former fire chief with Lodi Fire Company 1. “We’d tried everything to avoid the amputation, nothing was working and I just wanted to get ahead of the infection.” Within two months, he was walking with a prosthetic.

“For a while, I was doing well,” Anthony says. “But then the diabetes began attacking other areas.” The positive, can-do attitude that had served him so well throughout his life was put to the test when his kidneys began failing.

“By 2022, my kidneys were functioning at 7 percent and I was going to dialysis three times a week,” he says. Diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, Anthony needed a kidney transplant, and he had to get the word out. “I was hesitant at first,” recalls the married father of 22-year-old twins Anthony Joseph and Selena. “It’s hard for me to ask for help. I’m usually the one people come to for help.”

With the clock ticking, Anthony put his pride on the back burner and, with the help of family, friends and community kidney donation advocate Donna Tissot, began looking for a living donor with type O-positive blood.

Since diabetes and kidney disease run in his family, he had to look beyond relatives. “Donna hit the ground running,” he says. “She put it out on social media—her page, my page, groups I belong to. A lot of my friends got tested. I was put on the national list and began researching hospitals.”

I Felt at Ease

Even before he found out that Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC) is the largest kidney transplant center in the Northeast and one of the top centers in the United States, Anthony knew that if he was fortunate enough to find a donor, he would want the transplant performed at CBMC.

“I really wanted it done there because it is Lodi Fire Company’s burn facility, and the people who are taken there always receive great care,” says Anthony. “I’ve always had a good feeling about the hospital, and when I spoke to the people at the transplant center, I felt at ease. The staff was wonderful.”

“In 2023, we were not only the largest kidney center in the Northeast, but the fifth largest program in the U.S.,” says Francis L. Weng, MD, MSCE, Chief of the Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division at CBMC. Last year, the program performed 393 kidney transplants, its largest annual number to date. “We’re very proud to offer this service,” says Dr. Weng. “We have a fantastic team of eight transplant-trained kidney doctors and four surgeons, and we’re a leading center for both living donor and deceased donor transplants.”

While both living donor and deceased donor transplants save lives, living donor transplants are preferable when possible, as they offer benefits such as less time spent on a waiting list, better short- and long-term survival rates, and the option to have a transplant scheduled in advance rather than as an emergency procedure. “Once testing is completed and it’s determined that the living donor is a suitable match, the transplant can be performed as soon as the donor is ready,” Dr. Weng says.

A Match Made in Heaven

Despite the outpouring of support that Anthony received during his search for a donor, it was starting to look like a match might not be found. Then Tony Greco, Anthony’s friend and a former fire chief with the Hasbrouck Heights Volunteer Fire Department, saw one of his Facebook posts. “His fiancé, Nancy Scaramuzzo, saw the post and said, ‘I want to get tested!’” Anthony says.

Nancy, a 62-year-old retired legal secretary, turned out to be a perfect match. “They gave me a battery of tests and examined me from stem to stern,” she recalls. “I was very excited and, of course, a little nervous at first. But everyone at CBMC was amazing. They made me feel calm, didn’t rush me, explained everything thoroughly and answered all my questions.”

The transplant took place in June 2023. “By September, I got full clearance to come back unrestricted to perform my fire duties,” Anthony says.

Both Anthony and Nancy are now healthy and doing well. Anthony is forever grateful to the transplant team at CBMC and, especially, to Nancy. “People look at firefighters as heroes. We just do our job,” says Anthony. “Nancy—she’s a hero.”

Nancy doesn’t feel like a hero. “I believe that if you can do something good for someone, you should,” she says. “I’m glad I did it.”

She and Anthony now share a bond that is difficult to explain. “The last time I saw him, I said, ‘How’s my kidney doing? You better take care of it or I’ll take it back!’”

To Learn more about transplants at RWJBarnabas Health or become a registered organ and tissue donor.

Photo credit: Tony Greco