From the Editor

How a kidney changed hands

The two alumni were strangers, but thanks to an ad in the alumni magazine, they now share an intimate bond.

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About 25 years ago, Bob Opatrny ’77 (at right in photo), a New York City attorney, learned through a routine medical checkup that his body was getting rid of protein. It wasn’t good news. Healthy kidneys filter protein and retain it for the body’s use. A temporarily elevated protein level in the urine can be harmless, but Opatrny (oh-pat-rah-nee) was not so lucky. His protein level kept rising. Then creatin, a more serious marker, showed up. A biopsy in 2005 confirmed that he had lost significant kidney function. He had an idiopathic kidney disease, with no cure, and from 2005 on, he and his doctors watched the problem escalate. “There’s this angst,” he says. “What started out as a speck on the horizon was now a puffing locomotive headed toward you.”

In early 2014, Opatrny was put on the national kidney transplant waiting list. He started preparing for dialysis. He looked everywhere for a donor. “I’d already done Facebook, sent an e-mail to everybody in my high school, made the announcement in church. And it was kind of like, What’s next? Which is when I hit upon the Yale thing.”

Opatrny talked to our advertising manager, Mary Beard. She couldn’t stop thinking about his plight, and when a full-page ad was postponed at the last minute, she suggested he take the page at a reduced rate. Our September/October issue included a photo of Opatrny with his teenaged son and daughter, and his plea for a donor. He wrote that he hoped to dance at his daughter’s wedding.

“I was flipping through and this ad caught my eye—a man with his two kids,” says George Gagliardi ’79 (left). “It was one of those moments of, you can turn the page or maybe you can do something. And I looked at it and said, why not.”

From that moment, he says, he never had a doubt. He e-mailed Opatrny, who called him; they talked for two hours and found that, though they hadn’t known each other in college, they had both been in Saybrook and had many connections. “We must know two dozen people in common,” says Gagliardi, an engineering grad now working in finance near Boston. When his father heard about the idea, he asked whether Opatrny was a friend. Gagliardi said, “He is now.”

On Thursday, February 18, the surgery took place. After two days, Gagliardi was up and walking around. By Sunday, Opatrny had the lowest creatin level on the floor, and his wife, Susan, had delivered to Gagliardi a bag of thank-you letters they had asked friends and family to write. There were 110 letters.

Gagliardi, who volunteers at his church and for charities and serves on three local nonprofit boards, has become a strong advocate for kidney donation. The risk and inconvenience to a donor are negligible, he says. He once explained his decision to a friend in terms of a stock investment: “If I could buy something that had this little downside and this huge an upside, I’d put half my savings into it.” He adds: “How many times in your life can you do something that has this much impact on someone else?”


  • The Truong
    The Truong, 2:06pm May 22 2016 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    A great story! Thanks for the followup.

  • Patricia Sullivan
    Patricia Sullivan, 11:21pm June 06 2016 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Lovely story, and completely unsurprising, knowing George Gagliardi. He embodies selfless giving and compassion. So happy to read of a positive outcome.

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