After transplant, a second act for Broadway performer

Frank Farrow, 66, looks at a picture of himself ringing the bell. The photo will go on the board behind him of others who have received successful transplants and rung the bell before leaving. Nurse Manager Carrie Murawski looks on.

By Michael Vitez

Frank Farrow sang and performed all over the world in the Broadway Musical, Aint Misbehavin’. “I performed in every state but Alaska and on every continent but Antarctica,” he said.

He fit the role of Fats Waller, the great jazz pianist, singer and performer, because he was 6-feet-4 and nearly 400 pounds. A critic in 1993 for the Adelaide Review in Australia wrote that Farrow “has an engaging presence, a fine baritone….”

But that was a lifetime ago and Farrow paid his dues. Every day, over a span of 20 years, before, during and after performances, he would “take ibuprofen like candy,” he said, because his knees were in such pain. He had no idea it was bad for him.

His lifestyle caught up with him.

His kidneys went bad and he went into renal failure. For the last six years, he was on dialysis. He had returned home to Philadelphia, lived in the house where he grew up, just a few blocks from Temple University Hospital.

He spent three of those years in a wheel chair, until he had both knees replaced.

Last week, he got the call. A 39-year old man had died from a drug overdose. Farrow was going to receive the man’s kidney.

The transplant was a success.

After four days in the hospital, he was ready to go home.

As is custom at Temple, anyone receiving a liver, kidney or pancreas transplant rings a brass bell on the third floor before leaving. There is an inscription on the bell: “Not everyone gets a second chance. Honor this gift from your donor.”

Farrrow is 200 pounds now, and walks with a cane. But he walked right up to that bell in a hurry and rang it long and loud. In a sense it is a Liberty Bell, for he is now free from dialysis. After six years he will urinate again.

The nurses who had cared for him all gathered around and clapped and cheered as he rang that bell. But he took no bow. As he waited by the elevator, he acknowledged, “They took such good care of me, I should have bowed to them.”

Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.