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Neighbors bound by a gift Donated kidney makes women 'Best Friends'

Patti Kindron and Susie Fonzi wear matching necklace charms around their necks. The charms are two halves of a small heart; when put together, they spell out "Best Friends."

Each half of the charm lists the date they really bonded, Oct. 27, 2006.

But the two North Tonawanda friends and neighbors share more than two halves of a necklace charm.

They have also shared a kidney. On Oct. 27, Fonzi donated one of her kidneys to Kindron -- her next-door neighbor, whom she has known for less than two years.

Call it the story of the kidney that moved next door.

"I feel like she's a part of me, not just through the kidney," Kindron said during a recent laugh-filled interview with the two women. "The kidney will always be a part of me. Between the kidney and the necklace, we'll be bonded forever."

Kindron and her family have battled through some tough times, dealing with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease that also affected Kindron's grandmother, her father, her three siblings and one of her three children.

Patti Kindron, 50, became the third kidney transplant recipient in her family, following transplants received by her brother, Richard O'Keefe, a Buffalo firefighter, and her daughter, Jennifer.

To help Kindron and her family pay their medical bills, friends and relatives have organized a benefit being held from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday in Sikora American Legion Post on Payne Avenue, North Tonawanda.

Fonzi won't be paying the $25 admission fee. She recently received an invitation to the benefit, identifying her as the guest of honor, "because without you, there would be no celebration."

"It brought a tear to my eye," Fonzi said. "It gave me the chills."

Kindron, who had gone through dialysis, knew she needed a transplant. Her husband, Richard, who almost became a donor for their daughter Jennifer, has a different blood type from his wife.

Last spring, while sitting in Kindron's backyard, the two women talked about Kindron's need for a new kidney. Fonzi asked questions, about how someone donates a kidney and about the blood and tissue matches needed.

Kindron said she had O-positive blood.

"I said, 'I'm positively O-positive,' " Fonzi recalled.

Fonzi became extremely interested in the possibility, especially after further tests determined that the two women had a tissue match.

"From that time on, I never wavered," she said. "It was meant to happen."

But this was a woman she hadn't known before moving in next door on Warner Avenue in May 2005. And she was going to give her one of her organs.

"I thought long and hard about it," Fonzi said. "I can only tell you I just knew it was the right thing to do."

Polycystic kidney disease is characterized by the development of multiple cysts -- water- or blood-filled blisters -- on the kidneys. A normal kidney is the size of a fist, weighing maybe one pound. Kindron's left kidney, which was removed in the surgery, weighed between 12 and 15 pounds.

Following the dual surgeries, Fonzi, 47, stayed in Erie County Medical Center for four days; Kindron, five. Earlier this week, Kindron looked the picture of health, saying her new kidney is working great. She plans to return soon to her job as an administrative assistant at the University at Buffalo.

"I'm so grateful and feel so overwhelmed by her strength and her courage and her love," Kindron said. "I still can't believe it sometimes."

How do you properly thank someone who gave you an organ, especially a nonrelative?

Maybe there is no way, other than living the best possible life with the new organ.

"I said, 'Patti, you don't have to keep thanking me your whole life,' " Fonzi said. "But I did want a lifetime supply of her [pasta] sauce. It's phenomenal."

Fonzi won't be lacking in sauce.

The Kindron-O'Keefe clan has had it tough with this devastating kidney disease, which affects some 600,000 Americans. But family members attack the disease's effects with their faith, a smile and all the strength they can muster.

"I feel like I've been truly blessed," Patti Kindron said.

"They have never once wanted sympathy," Fonzi said. "These people have more courage and strength. They never complain."

As the two women talked about the shared kidney, Fonzi joked about the everlasting bond the next-door neighbors share:

"I told her we're going to have a kidney-shaped pool put in, half on her side and half on my side."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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