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Easter ‘miracle’ gives former DA Clark new kidney, new chance at life

For Frank J. Clark, there was something to be said about faith, the power of prayer, and what just might happen late on an Easter Sunday night.

The retired Erie County district attorney had waited five and a half years for a life-saving kidney transplant and, at 73, worried he might have finally “aged out.” But Sunday afternoon at his winter home in Green Valley, Ariz., “the call” for which he and his wife, Kathy, had waited so long finally came.

Doctors at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson had a kidney. He was to report to the hospital immediately.

“I had received calls before and they always fell through,” Clark said Monday afternoon from his hospital bed, just hours after the operation. “But this one came on Easter Sunday. And I thought – maybe this one is a signal from God.”

Then came the agonizing wait. Surgeons had to determine if the donated kidney would prove suitable, and if it could work with his rare blood type possessed by only 2 percent of the population.

“This time it all went through,” he said after the four-and-a-half-hour operation that ended around 1:30 a.m. Arizona time.

Clark was known as a rough-and-tumble prosecutor through his eight years as district attorney. Maybe that stemmed from his 13 months as a Marine field officer in Vietnam, or from years of dealing with hardened criminals, or battling with defense attorneys and – yes – an occasional reporter.

But he encountered his toughest battle to date only since declining to seek a third term in 2009. Renal failure set in after he contracted lupus in 2002, and it reached the point where Clark was undergoing dialysis treatment four hours a day for three days a week.

His close friend, retired Appellate Division Justice Salvatore R. Martoche, said the ordeal was beginning to catch up even with the hardened former Marine. But the Easter Sunday call arrived as “good news” in a Biblical as well as life-saving sense, he said. He called it an “Easter miracle.”

“He knew he was in the good hands of outstanding professionals who really wanted to help him,” Martoche said. “They have almost adopted him, they have so much affection for him.

“I’m just ecstatic he got this chance,” he added.

Still, it has proven as tough an ordeal as any Clark has experienced. Dialysis intensified, calls about an available kidney came and went, and he and his wife spent longer periods at their Arizona home because more transplants took place there.

“You have to keep a good attitude, but I was getting kind of concerned,” he said. “I was getting at the outer edge, age wise. I was going to age out.

“So when the call came, it was absolutely wonderful,” he said.

Clark still faces major hurdles in his recovery. His new kidney had not started functioning just hours after surgery, but he said that process normally takes two to five days. Then he faces a regimen of anti-rejection measures and intensive monitoring for the next six months.

But he remains hopeful, just as he has for the last five and a half years. He and his wife had been regularly praying a novena (the Catholic devotion of prayers over a nine-day period) to St. Francis Xavier, but not in recent months.

They had just resumed their prayers when the call came on Easter. It reinforced his belief in the power of prayer, he said, and he now hopes others in his situation will not give up hope.

“I hope that happens. More and more people are on dialysis and it’s long and difficult,” Clark said. “But there can be a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow.”