Wilmington, Del., Local 313 wireman Dave Amalfitano is a man bursting with gratitude and plans for the future.
|Amalitano and his kids pose in front of the Local 313 roadside sign that started his public search for a kidney donor. The sign, which featured Amalfitano's plea for many months, was updated with the great news following his surgery.
The 47-year-old single father of three received a life-saving kidney transplant on Sept. 7 at the University of Maryland hospital in Baltimore after a more than three-year search for a donor.
Diagnosed early in life with polycystic kidney disease, Amalfitano’s health deteriorated four years ago when his kidneys shut down, requiring dialysis treatment multiple times a week and forcing him to stop working. That prompted him to step up his quest for a kidney to replace his, which had each grown abnormally large and riddled with cysts.
“This process has been a roller-coaster,” Amalfitano said. “It’s been so hard, not knowing what was going to happen, if I was going to live or die, if I was going to be here for my kids. But it’s also shown me just how generous people can be. I’ve had so many calls to offer to be tested for a match, people who’ve said, ‘Dave, I want to save your life.’ I’m so grateful to all of them for even taking that first step.”
The process began for Amalfitano as it does for many of the more than 100,000 people on the national waiting list for a kidney donation. He asked his family and friends to be tested for a match. But that turned up nothing.
After exhausting the traditional options, Amalfitano asked last April if he could put a message on the local hall’s marquee. That roadside plea echoed across local newspapers and TV news and drew more than a dozen serious offers from Wilmington-area residents.
An August 2016 Electrical Worker story drew even more interest from Amalfitano’s union brothers and sisters across the U.S., including one perfect match, Rob Vargas, an apprentice at Chicago Local 9.
“I thought I’d found my savior in Rob,” Amalfitano said. The Electrical Worker followed the meeting of the two brothers in Baltimore in April when Vargas arrived for his final medical evaluations, but doctors discovered that Vargas’ kidneys were a rare horseshoe shape, making him an unsuitable donor. The condition was not life-threatening, but Amalfitano’s hopes for a new kidney were at an all-time low.
“That was a gut punch,” he said. “Rob is my brother, and I’ll always be grateful for the sacrifice he was ready to make, but it didn’t work out, and starting over was really hard.”
As it turned out, Amalfitano didn’t have to wait long. As his story got out again, including the near-miss with Vargas, he posted a video to Facebook telling his story. “I had to keep going for my kids,” he said. “There wasn’t another choice.”
Shared by thousands from every corner of the U.S., Amalfitano’s video reached Lisa Shea, who, as fate would have it, lived just down the road in Port Penn, Del.
|Brother Dave Amalfitano with his kidney donor, Lisa Shea and her husband, Chris. "Lisa is my angel," Amalfitano said.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” she wrote in a Facebook post in July. “It was an overwhelmingly peaceful intuitive feeling knowing that calling him, calling his transplant coordinator, pursuing it was the thing to do. As if it was a calling.”
The two were a match, and on Sept. 7, Amalfitano and Shea were back in Baltimore, prepped and ready for the operation that would remove one of Shea’s kidneys and use it to save Amalfitano’s life.
“Lisa is the angel I’ve been looking for, and we’re going to be bonded for life,” Amalfitano said. “Her sacrifice, it’s given me more years with my kids, more years back at work, more years of living the life I’m so lucky to have. I’m so grateful for her.
“This transplant is going to change my life,” he said. “When they removed my kidneys, the disease went with them. I’ll never have to worry about the disease coming back, and I’ll never have to spend another day hooked up to that dialysis machine. I’m really blessed.”
A little more than a month after the operation, Amalfitano was enjoying positive follow-ups with doctors and spending more time with his three kids, Anna, 15, and twin boys Matthew and Leo, 13. He was also looking forward to recovering enough to get back to work, hopefully by the end of the year – almost two years to the date from when he became too sick to work.
Amalfitano is also thankful for all the IBEW brothers and sisters who donated generously to an online fundraising effort to help him through the toughest stretch of his life when he was unable to work and paying exorbitant COBRA insurance rates. “There’s no way I would have survived financially if not for the generosity of IBEW members and the community here in Delaware,” he said.
“The union has blessed me with a lot of things, and my Local 313 brothers and sisters and the support from IBEW members across the country have meant so much through all of this. Thank you to all of you.”