This cop won’t be busting on his little sister for a while: a touching story from Temple’s Kidney Transplant Program
By Michael Vitez
You can tell a man is loved when he receives flowers in the hospital with this note: “Get well soon, you big lug.”
Gene Mackey is a big lug, a loveable lug. He’s a K9 police officer in the Delaware County town of Folcroft, known for busting on family and friends, but also offering them the shirt off his back.
His brother, Sean, also a police officer, wrote on Facebook the day before Gene’s kidney transplant: “If anyone knows my brother, he is one of the biggest ball busters around ….but he will always have your back and never stop being there for you.”
Gene, 42, had been avoiding dealing with his dying kidneys until one night a year ago. He works nights and a call came in. A young man, 24, had taken a train from Philly and wound up in a Folcroft bar, the only place open. He was lost. He’d come to visit a friend but couldn’t find the friend. The young man, who had a disability, played with Gene’s police dog, Sarge, while Gene tracked down and called the man’s father, who said he was coming from Temple University Hospital.
Gene asked the young man, “What’s your dad do at Temple?”
“He works with kidneys,” the young man replied.
The father thanked the officer for taking care of his son. Gene said to the doctor, Serban Constantinescu, a nephrologist, “Your son said you do something with kidneys…”
The doctor listened to Gene and told him to call his office in the morning. When Gene hadn’t called by noon, Dr. Constantinescuhad his office call Gene.
“It’s like he’s an angel, that guy,” says Gene’s wife, Mary.
Dr. Constantinescu helped pave the way to get Gene evaluated. Not only did he need a transplant – he had kidney disease just like his late father –but doctors found cancer in one kidney, which had to be removed.
Gene’s kidneys were only working at 20 percent before the cancer was discovered. With the cancerous kidney removed, Gene had to go on to dialysis.
On Gene’s first day, at Temple, a man in his 80s died in the next dialysis chair. Gene and his wife freaked out. But there all of a sudden was Dr. Constantinescu, who sat with them for 45 minutes, calmed them down, reassured them they would be fine.
Several people wanted to donate a kidney to Gene. His little sister, Kate, 31, actually got offended that he would even consider somebody else. “I just simply said where do I go for the test,” said Kate, who manages a local veterinary hospital. “I did feel like it was going to be me.”
Gene had to wait several months for the transplant, to heal from the cancer surgery, to give Kate time for all her tests, to make sure the cancer didn’t come back.
Kate surprised Gene, his wife, and their four daughters in May at his daughter’s first communion party. The transplant would be the following week. The extended family all wore t-shirts. Kate’s read: “Of course I’m a kidney donor. Who wouldn’t want a piece of this?”
In the waiting room, pre-op, this big man, this big lug, six feet and 245, just started “balling my eyes out.” “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Gene said, “how fortunate I am, how lucky I am to be surrounded by such good people, such love, how lucky I am to have a sister like Kate.”
The surgery for both went well.
Kate went home the next day. She was in pain but still loved her brother.
He spent three nights in the hospital to make sure his new kidney was working right.
Dr. Constantinescu told him how good he looked.
As Gene and his wife were leaving the hospital, he stopped on the third floor near his room to ring a bell - donated by the nurses on the floor. Everyone who gets a kidney rings the bell, the symbol of a new start.
Gene hugged and thanked several nurses, who all gathered for a picture with him by the bell. “I haven’t been around this many women … dressed,” he quipped.
He needed no wheelchair. He walked out of the hospital feeling so much better than when he arrived. Soon enough he’d be back to work, back to life, back to busting on friends and family, the big lug.
POST SCRIPT: Weeks later, both brother and sister are doing great. She returned to work too fast, and paid for it! And is now taking it a little more slowly. He’s not allowed to return to work yet, but is keeping busy taking his four daughters to softball games. And Sarge is glad to have him home.
Michael Vitez is director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.