Erika Sanzi: In Sickness and in Health

By Erika Sanzi
Posted 2/6/20

There are lots of wives out there who are probably convinced that the gifts they gave their husbands for Christmas were just what the hubby wanted. But for Christmas 2019, nobody holds a candle to my …

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Erika Sanzi: In Sickness and in Health


There are lots of wives out there who are probably convinced that the gifts they gave their husbands for Christmas were just what the hubby wanted. But for Christmas 2019, nobody holds a candle to my mother, who at the age of 72 and in her 48th year of marriage, gave my father a kidney.

Not a necktie, not a new putter, not tickets to see the Red Sox play the Yankees—but a kidney. He really needed one and by some miracle, hers was a perfect match. So on December 10th at Mass General Hospital, they kissed goodbye around 7 am and headed off to be prepped and wheeled into two different operating rooms for what is perhaps the perfect story of “in sickness and in health, til death do us part.”

My dad, who is 73, often talks about how he struggles to find the words to describe what it’s like to receive a gift like the one he just received from his wife, my mother. And this isn’t the first time he has been at a loss for words.

Thirty years ago he was blessed by the love and sacrifice of another woman who has loved him all her life when his sister, my Aunt Marty, gave him one of her kidneys. I was in 10th grade and I vividly remember her insistence on being the donor as soon as she learned that she was a match. I also remember the natural fear it caused her beloved late husband, my Uncle Bill.

The kidney Aunt Marty gave my dad lasted twice as long as the average donor kidney—thirty years is an incredible run. But as much as dad imagined himself living forever with her kidney, we knew that sooner or later, he’d have to freshen up what I like to call his “kidney collection.”

So mom stepped up.

Living organ donation can seem scary, especially to people who don’t know much about it. It turns out that each of us has four times the amount of kidneys we need. Not only can we easily live with one kidney, but we actually can live with a half of one kidney. And we can live on just part of our liver too—so even though we only have one, we can still be donors to someone who needs part of a healthy liver to survive. The human body is remarkable in that way.

It is the lucky man who has two women in his life who love him enough to give him one of their kidneys. Truth be told, I had hoped to give him mine. But for those who aren’t as lucky as my dad and don’t have living family members who are a match or can be the donor, we — all of us—can be the change in their luck. In fact, one in four living donors are not biologically related to the recipient.

Living organ donation is a selfless gift, a true act of altruism. I hope you’ll learn more about it at

I am grateful to report that both my parents are doing very well and are already back on the sidelines of their grandsons’ games. Living organ donation gave all of us that gift.

Erika Sanzi is a former educator and school committee member who writes about education at Project Forever Free and Good School Hunting.

Erika Sanzi

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