Healthy You - Every Day

A New Life for Leo

Kidney transplant frees Macungie man from dialysis, restores freedom

Leo Palumbo lost one kidney to cancer and the other to kidney disease, but today he’s enjoying retirement, his family and life thanks to a kidney he received from a deceased stranger 2½ years ago.

“Organ donation is a selfless act that benefits so many people,” says Palumbo, 75, of Macungie. “I’m so thankful to the family who donated their loved one’s kidney to me. It was truly a game changer.”

Palumbo, a Vietnam War veteran, doesn’t know his donor or the donor’s family, but their generosity freed him from exhausting three-times-a-week dialysis treatments. They freed him to be able to see his six grandchildren grow up, to take vacations and play golf. “I feel like I did 10 to 15 years ago,” he says.

Organ donation numbers

While the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults support organ donation, only slightly more than half are registered organ donors.

On average, 17 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant, according to the federal Health Resources & Services Administration. That’s why having even more potential donors is important.

“I’m so thankful to the family who donated their loved one’s kidney to me. It was truly a game changer.” – Leo Palumbo

Transplant journey

Palumbo’s kidney odyssey began 32 years ago, in 1990. An avid runner at the time, he discovered blood in his urine after running a half-marathon. Doctors subsequently found abnormal protein levels in his urine, and he began seeing a nephrologist, a kidney specialist. For 10 years, he lived a normal life with some dietary modifications.

Blood test results indicated declining kidney function. In 2006, his left kidney was removed because of cancer. His remaining kidney continued to decline, and he was accepted onto the transplant wait list in 2016. No one in his family was a good match for his O-negative blood type. Dialysis started two years later.

After about a year on dialysis, the call came in September 2019, the night before Labor Day. Palumbo is a straightforward person. He says his choice is always to look for solutions and knew getting a kidney transplant was the right choice. “You have to say the heck with it, and you do it. I knew I had to do this. It had to be better than dialysis,” he says.

His transplant, performed by Christine Du, MD, LVPG Transplant Surgery–1250 Cedar Crest, went smoothly.

Grateful for the caregivers and donor's family

“I can’t say enough about how great the transplant center has been. The nurses and doctors are always helpful and professional,” Palumbo says.

Palumbo says the transplant team at Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence guided him before and after the transplant and continues to monitor his kidney health. “As you can imagine, we had many questions, and the nurses and doctors answered every question in a very understandable manner,” he says.

He says Sue Eckhart, a transplant coordinator with LVHN, even helped him get needed transplant-related medications through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when Palumbo hit a roadblock. “She fought the battle with the VA to get me the medication. That was pretty special,” he says. “Everything they did was special. They go out of their way to work with you.”

Palumbo’s life after his transplant has been good, he says, with the exception of COVID-19 restrictions. As a transplant recipient, someone such as Palumbo has a compromised immune system because of medication to fight organ rejection and that makes him more prone to infection.

“The most important thing I gained was freedom,” he says. “I am now free to take vacations, play golf and visit my children and grandchildren. I attend my grandchildren’s sporting events and am able to do spur-of-the-moment things, like taking day trips.”

Working with transplant program social worker Tyler Baldes, Palumbo wrote a thank you letter to his donor’s family. “I told them the gift of the kidney changed my life and now I can really live my life,” he says.

Through it all, Palumbo’s family was by his side, including Pat, his wife of 55 years. “As things started to deteriorate, my wife went to each doctor’s appointment and asked pertinent questions of the doctors. She continues to go to doctor appointments with me,” he says. “My entire family was there when I went into transplant surgery and stayed until I woke up after the surgery. They all reassured and supported me through this entire process.”

Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence

Kidney and Pancreas Transplant

With 30 years of transplant experience, our kidney transplants have a 94 percent success rate and LVHN patients receive kidneys FIVE TIMES faster.

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