Firefighter to kidney donor: ‘she’s my hero’

Artie Surrey is in need of a kidney due to a genetic disease, which caused his to fail. After a year of searching, he found a perfect match right down the block.

Kristine Gawlowski of Shirley, a paraprofessional at Tangier Smith Elementary School, works with Surrey’s wife Amy, and will be donating one of her kidneys to Surrey on Dec. 4. Gawlowski has had medical difficulties of her own, surviving two brain tumors, having several reconstructive surgeries, and needing a feeding tube for almost a year. On top of this, she lost her home in Hurricane Sandy. Nevertheless, Gawlowski believes that she has persevered and survived for good reason: to help others.

“There has to be a reason that God kept me alive, that I’ve survived, that I’m still here,” she recalled telling her mother recently. “There has to be a purpose.”

After being tested for the match, due to her medical history Gawlowski needed approvals from several other doctors to make sure she was not at risk to go through the surgery. Her blood type is O positive, a match with Surrey, and eight to 10 doctors signed off saying that she could go ahead.

“At the end, I was the best match out of everyone who had been tested,” she said.

Gawlowski was a bus driver for the school district years ago and suffered a fall in the bus yard while on duty. She went to the doctor for an MRI and, while there was no major damage as a result of the fall, they informed her that she did have a brain tumor. She said she went through many reconstructions and surgeries, and she was unrecognizable during the most difficult times.

“The things that medicine can do — that’s why I think this is so important,” she said. “It’s just amazing what they can do and [it’s also] the fact that I have the ability to help somebody, to improve their life the way they improved mine.”

Despite her troubles, she said she’s always taught her four kids to be thankful, and tried to show them the good luck they have that she is still around.

“Not one, but two brain tumors, and I’m walking, talking, functioning,” she said. “It’s a miracle. And I want to share that miracle with somebody else.”

Surrey’s disease is polycystic kidney disease and runs in his family. He knew eventually it would catch up with him and that he would need new kidneys. He learned about his illness two years ago and has been undergoing dialysis. His recovery is expected to take about three months. He will be in the hospital for five to seven days and will visit a recovery center after being released. Gawlowski’s recovery will be about three weeks. She said she isn’t really nervous about the procedure, compared to everything else she’s been through. “This one will be a walk in the park,” she said.

Amy Surrey, who works as a teaching assistant at Tangier Smith and was not a match when originally tested to donate her kidney to her husband, tried to talk Gawlowski out of her generous idea, but her friend persisted. “[I] will forever be thankful,” said Amy Surrey.

A spaghetti dinner fundraiser in support of Gawlowski was held on Dec. 2 at the Mastic Beach Fire Department, where Surrey is second lieutenant, and all proceeds will go towards her medical leave and bills.

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