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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    A new lease on life for Father’s Day

    John and Diana Guarino in the garden of their Quaker Hill home on June 3, 2022, shortly after the kidney transplant operations they underwent with Diana as the donor and John as the recipient. (Lee Howard/The Day)
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    Waterford — Two years ago, East Lyme postal worker John Guarino was so sick from kidney failure that he had to take several months off from work.

    He felt like hell.

    Now he’s regularly working 12-hour days, lifting heavy packages and dreaming of retirement less than two years away. He’s now one month away from turning 64, thanks largely to a kidney transplant from a donor who remarkably turned out to be a great match in more ways than one: his wife, Diana.

    “It’s pretty unbelievable,” Guarino said Thursday, reflecting on the prospects of a much healthier Father’s Day than he had two years ago as he recuperated from major surgery.

    What’s more unbelievable is that Guarino’s 61-year-old brother, Ray, who grew up in Waterford and now lives in East Haddam working in insurance claims, also inherited the same genetic anomaly that led to polycystic kidney disease, and he had a transplant the same year. More remarkable still, Ray’s wife, Christie, turned out to be the one donating a kidney.

    “What are the chances?” Ray Guarino said in a phone interview Friday.

    Ray said he now has the energy and stamina to go to the Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park on Saturday, plus a visit to Abbott’s Lobster in Noank on Father’s Day with Christie’s 93-year-old dad.

    “This year I feel better than I have in two or three years,” Ray said.

    His wife said she was glad to be a donor.

    “It’s really not bad donating a kidney. It’s not a scary thing,” said Christie, an intensive care nurse at Hartford Hospital, where the procedure was performed. “It’s easy to do, and it changes a life.”

    Christie said she and Ray were lucky to have family nearby as they were both recuperating at the same time from surgery.

    Quaker Hill resident John Guarino, by May 2022, already had been going through hemodialysis for several months after his ailing kidney had to be removed. So when he and his wife, Diana, found out that she was a nearly perfect kidney donor match, they decided to go through with a transplant operation.

    But there was one major issue: Guarino had to undergo open-heart aortic valve surgery just a few months before the transplant.

    “I didn’t have the energy or strength to do stuff,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

    The heart surgery had left a scar from the neck area midway to the stomach, and then the kidney operation left another scar that basically started right on top of the previous incision.

    But Guarino went back to work as soon as he could, intent on finishing up his 20 years in the postal service to qualify for retirement benefits. Unfortunately, his body had not yet fully healed, leaving him with two hernias in his abdomen.

    “The muscles weren’t strong enough,” he said.

    The doctors decided not to fix the hernias until after he retires, figuring he’d just reinjure himself due to the nature of being a postal deliverer. Any operation to repair the hernias would have to occur after John’s retirement, which could come as early as December 2025.

    John and Diana have been married for nearly 40 years, having met in high school back in the late 1970s. They have two sons, Peter and James, as well as a 4-year-old grandson, Calvin, who was planning to stay overnight with the Guarinos on Friday.

    John said he has no particular Father’s Day plans, but he does enjoy the fact that he can horse around with his grandson thanks to the kidney transplant and his wife’s donation of her extra organ. People are born with two kidneys, but need only one to function.

    John's father, the senior Ray Guarino, died in his 40s because of the same polycystic kidney disease that runs a 50% risk in the family. His dad did in-home dialysis, one of the first in the region to do so, but did not go through with a transplant.

    “Back when my dad could have volunteered for a transplant, some patients felt like you were almost going against God’s will to try for a transplant,” Guarino said. “Kidney transplants were still very new and experimental in the late 1960s, early ‘70s.”

    But many of those who underwent operations years ago are still alive.

    “I am a member of a kidney transplant support group on Facebook, and there are a few people still alive today that had kidney transplants 50 years ago,” John Guarino said in a text message.

    For the Guarino family, now counting two kidney donors and two recipients, Father’s Day is indeed a time to celebrate lives extended by love, generosity and the skill of medical professionals.

    “God had a plan,” said Christie.

    l.howard@theday.com

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