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Dec 21, 2011 8:52 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Woman Donates Kidney To Friend

Dec 21, 2011 10:21 AM

Piles of presents will be unwrapped come Christmas morning, and heaps more given out during Hanukkah, which began on Tuesday. It is the height of gift-giving season, after all.

But one young woman on the East End has already received the greatest of presents, one she calls “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Allison Lennon, a Southampton Village native who now lives in Hampton Bays, bantered with her friend Jessica Kellis, a village resident, over lunch on a recent Friday afternoon at Sip ‘N’ Soda, one of the pair’s regular hangouts. The women, each wearing a long scarf draped stylishly around her neck, finished each other’s sentences, punctuated with playful sarcasm and bursts of laughter, over sandwiches, followed by milk shakes—vanilla for Ms. Lennon and chocolate for Ms. Kellis.

The two, already friends, became even closer several months ago, thanks to an act prompted seemingly by fate or a higher power.

Ms. Lennon’s kidneys had failed. She needed a transplant—and fast.

Ms. Kellis, who had never before donated even a drop of blood, and who admits to a fear of needles, stepped up to the plate, driven, she explained, by her strong Catholic faith.

“It was just an overwhelming sense that I was going to be a match and that I was ultimately going to donate to her,” said the 32-year-old married mother of two young children, adding that her friend never asked her to be tested as a potential donor. “I let my faith be my guide, and it’s never steered me wrong.”

The odds for a match, particularly for a non-relative, are not very high, she noted. A handful of potential donors, including Ms. Lennon’s sister Laura Andrews and brother Richard, were near-perfect matches, but were rejected because of various health issues.

It took six dialysis-filled months between Ms. Lennon learning she needed a new kidney and Ms. Kellis—who turned out to be a perfect match—being cleared to be her donor. On November 9, the surgeries were performed at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.

“It’s pretty amazing that somebody would voluntarily give you an organ,” Ms. Lennon said. “I mean, it’s indescribable, because”—she giggled—“it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s sort of a vital gift.”

Ms. Lennon, who turned 35 on Monday, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 2 months old. The life-threatening disorder affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices, and it causes severe lung damage. In 2004, Ms. Lennon underwent a double-lung transplant, but a side effect of her anti-rejection medications was damage to her kidneys. In May of this year, she was in end-stage renal failure. Her kidneys were not functioning.

The petite former preschool teacher faced a future of dialysis while waiting on an organ transplant list, a wait she was told could take two to three years.

“Some people can be on dialysis for a decade. Allison’s body wouldn’t have been able to handle the stress to the system,” Ms. Kellis said.

Throughout lunch, Ms. Kellis ticked off facts about Ms. Lennon as though she were reading her medical chart. Ms. Lennon, for her part, ticked off facts about Ms. Kellis’s donating. And in between their rattling, they cracked plenty of kidney jokes.

They were not the only ones with a sense of humor.

“Kidney! Kidney for sale!” a friend, Diana Yastrzemski, hollered from the other side of the restaurant when she saw the duo. After mentioning the kidney donations to some nearby patrons, Ms. Yastrzemski slid into a seat at Ms. Lennon’s and Ms. Kellis’s back corner table to ask how they were doing. Immediately, the trio started joshing about how, for example, the large size of the kidney would be sure to topple the small-framed Ms. Lennon, and that by giving up one of her kidneys Ms. Kellis would become more curvaceous—on one side.

But the donor-recipient pair also displayed moments of seriousness.

“Allison needed me to become stronger, but then after I gave her my kidney ...” Ms. Kellis trailed off, her eyes filled with tears. She continued, “She taught me how to be strong—and she’s the bravest person I know.”

“I’m used to this,” Ms. Lennon said with a smile, offering a napkin as a tissue.

The tears soon turned back to laughter.

About six weeks after surgery, the pair are largely back to normal. Both enjoy shopping and watching Disney movies together, but most of all they just like talking, and, of course, being sarcastic.

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Sheen has gone to far better place.........
By guest (67), Bridgehampton on Dec 21, 11 1:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a wonderful story of giving, love and friendship for this holiday season.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Dec 21, 11 2:10 PM
2 members liked this comment
Allision I'm so happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! what a wonderful gift....
Merry Christmas

By phantom (5), easthampton on Dec 21, 11 9:11 PM
Hey Aunt Jess, you just donated a kidney. What are you going to do now?????
By guest (67), Bridgehampton on Dec 22, 11 9:28 AM
1 member liked this comment
So glad to read the happy story. I knew Allison as a fifth grader in Sunday School.
Such a cute kid grown into a beautiful woman. The phrase to day... "You go girl"
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Dec 22, 11 10:24 AM
God Bless them both.
By marybmary (53), east hampton on Dec 22, 11 11:33 AM
Nothing greater than giving someone their life back! Awesome story. My brother gave his kidney to my dad last thanksgiving, they are both doing perfect!!! God bless you both!!
By marek (1), East Hampton on Dec 23, 11 12:53 PM
How cool is this story ? !! I wish both of you ladies a Happy New Year and a long and happy life !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Dec 31, 11 11:00 AM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser