A Maryland man was dying. His longtime handyman gave him a kidney.
“It was only a matter of time,” said Antonelli, who has a family history of kidney disease.
Then Antonelli was unexpectedly offered an organ from an unlikely donor: his longtime craftsman.
62-year-old Dan Reynolds had done odd jobs and repairs for Antonelli and his wife Mary in their Gaithersburg home for several years. In October last year, Reynolds discovered something was wrong when Antonelli stepped outside to pay him after he mowed her lawn.
“He wasn’t very handsome,” Reynolds recalled. “I asked him if he was okay.”
Antonelli stated his health concerns.
Reynolds asked him, “Well what blood type are you?”
“A positive one?” Antonelli replied as if to ask a question.
“I’m positive too,” Reynolds replied. “I would be honored to give you one of my kidneys.”
Antonelli froze. After a few seconds he could only say: “What?”
Reynolds assured him it was not an empty offer. He was serious.
“I understand how hard it is to bring people together, and when it works, it works,” Reynolds told him.
Antonelli ran in to get his wife, who was just as stunned as her husband.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mary Antonelli, 68. “I was speechless. I burst into tears because it’s not something you would ever expect. “
In 2017 she donated a kidney to her husband. The operation went well, she said, but after three years the transplanted kidney began to scar and her husband began to feel sick again.
“I lost my appetite, had no energy and was slowly getting worse,” said Antonelli, who is retired and previously worked in technology sales.
His doctor confirmed what he had long dreaded: he had to dialysis for the rest of his life and spent at least 12 hours a week on a machine.
The prognosis became even more bleak when, after a few months, Antonelli did not respond well to treatment.
“He wasn’t very good on dialysis. He got sick and had various problems, ”said Mary.
Reynolds’ sudden proposal seemed like an incredible proposition for the couple. Although extensive testing still had to be done to confirm that Reynolds was a viable game, it was clear that he was dying to try.
“I’ve always been like this,” said Reynolds. “If someone helps me, I’ll help them.”
Reynolds, who spent 22 years in the Army as a combat engineer, endured his share of hardships, including a difficult divorce and several years of homelessness. Without the compassion of others, he would not have landed on his feet.
After Reynolds retired from the military in January 1999, he started his own business as a craftsman. He made ends meet for a while, he said, but he eventually found himself in financial straits.
“I had money, but not enough,” said Reynolds, who slept in a friend’s van in DC for several years
About five years ago, however, he too received an unexpected offer. He had just done a job for a friend in Gaithersburg and was waiting to take the bus back to DC when a stranger pulled up next to him.
“It was extremely cold and there was 12 inches of snow on the ground,” said Reynolds. “One of the people who lived in the area came out on the main street and asked me if I needed a ride to the subway.”
He gratefully took the ride on which the stranger discovered that Reynolds was a craftsman whose services he could use.
He hired Reynolds to do some odd jobs and eventually – when he found out he was homeless – invited him to move into his basement in exchange for his work around the house two days a week. Relieved, Reynolds settled in his new home and began contacting several regular customers in Gaithersburg, including the Antonellis. Finally he was financially stable again.
Along with six other families in the area, “the Antonellis stopped me and wanted to repay them,” Reynolds said. “If they come up and give me work, I’ll do what I can to make things easier. They are such good people. “
Offering his kidney, he said, was his way of paying it forward. He immediately made appointments to undergo the necessary tests.
“Dan was the one who instigated every single step of the way,” said Mary. “He was still working and fitting into all of those deadlines between jobs.”
The process of kidney donation is complicated, said Joseph Melancon, director of the GW Transplant Institute at George Washington University Hospital.
“Mr. Reynolds has been doing tests for over a month,” he said, adding that if a donor is not a family member or close friend, “we give the patient an extra check-up where psychiatrists examine them to make sure.” that he has a real altruistic desire.
“We let them jump through a lot of hoops and Mr. Reynolds has always been very willing to do whatever it takes to make sure he was a good match,” added Melancon, Antonelli’s transplant surgeon. “He really is an angel.”
Melancon said such arrangements – where the patient and donor are not closely related – have increased over the past decade and now account for about 5 percent of all live transplants performed in the United States. He estimated that the transplant should add at least 10 years to Antonelli’s life.
What makes organ donors so special, Melancon said, is, “You come in and have an extensive procedure that is not for your benefit, but for someone else’s benefit. It’s safe surgery, but it’s still major surgery. “
When doctors confirmed that Reynolds was in perfect shape to donate his kidney to Antonelli, they scheduled the operation for February 23.
As the two men were wheeled into separate operating rooms, Reynolds said, “I gave him a big thumbs up.
Operations went smoothly and both Reynolds and Antonelli are recovering.
Antonelli – who has three children (all of whom couldn’t donate their kidneys for various reasons) and 13 grandchildren – said he was eternally grateful.
Antonelli not only sees Reynolds as a dear friend, “we’re brothers now,” he said.
Even during his own recovery, Reynolds is focused on Antonelli’s wellbeing: “I’ll be monitoring him to make sure he’s okay,” he said.
Since Reynolds was unable to work for several weeks during his healing, the Antonelli family set up a GoFundMe page to support him. When the people in Gaithersburg heard what Reynolds did for Antonelli, he said, “I have about 50 new customers.”
He appreciated the support, he said, but the best part of the experience is giving Antonelli more time to live.
“I would do it again for him 100 times,” he said.