Former Norwich police officers now share more than memories
Peter Petrides said his morning prayers last June 7 and asked “the guy upstairs” what he should do with the rest of his life now that he had retired from being a Naval Submarine Base police officer in Groton.
Then, the Plainfield resident started reading that morning’s newspaper and an article about retired Norwich Police Department Officer Mark Kalinowski desperately in need of a kidney transplant. Petrides also had served as a Norwich police officer.
Kalinowski, 60, of Norwich was putting out a call for a live donor to give him the best possible shot at recovery. Already, several would-be donors were found not to be good matches, and Kalinowski was deflated.
“This could be a clue,” Petrides recalled thinking.
Petrides talked to his wife, Lynda, about it and called Boston Medical Center nurse Karen Curreri, clinical administrator and living donor coordinator, listed as the contact person in The Day news story. Curreri said one person was in process for Kalinowski, but if that didn’t work out, Petrides would be next. Petrides did not tell Kalinowski and soon put it to the back of his mind.
In September, the call came from Boston Medical Center, and Petrides made numerous road trips to Boston for blood and urine tests and a host of other examinations. At age 63, he was approaching the age limit of 65 for donating a kidney.
Petrides met up with Kalinowski at a funeral in September for another retired Norwich police officer, Anastas “Stash” Provatas. Petrides asked Kalinowski, “How are you doing?”
“Well, you know, I could use a kidney,” Kalinowski said. His kidneys were at about 4% of capacity due to a rare illness, and he had to hook up to an overnight peritoneal dialysis machine each night.
“Well, I’m working on it,” Petrides responded.
“Huh?” Kalinowski said, taken aback.
Kalinowski said he couldn’t yet get excited about his friend’s potentially lifesaving offer, because he had experienced so many previous setbacks.
“While I really appreciated it, there was another person that was doing it,” Kalinowski said. “I had just come off the letdown of the last person who was number 11 or 12 on the list that didn’t work out. So, what I thought, just because I was not in a very good mental place then, was: ‘I’m glad that someone else is trying, but this isn’t going to work.’”
Both men have strong faith in God, so Petrides told his friend to keep praying. “Always, always,” Kalinowski said.
Petrides turned out to be the best possible match, about 98%, with only family members possibly scoring higher. More tests ensued, and Petrides called Kalinowski after each step. Because of medical privacy laws, nurse Curreri could not give either man updates on the other’s status.
On Jan. 2, Petrides called Kalinowski and asked what he was doing on Feb. 16. Kalinowski figured he wanted to go to the shooting range or out to dinner.
“I think that’s a good day to give you a kidney,” Petrides said.
Boston Medical Center had offered Petrides two dates in January or Feb. 16 but advised against January with COVID-19 cases on the rise in the hospital. Surgeries in January ended up being postponed due to the surge.
The two stayed at a nearby hotel the night before, Kalinowski ordered not to eat or drink anything, and Petrides told to drink more water than he could stand. Doctors wanted his kidney to be well hydrated.
The next morning, they were wheeled to adjacent surgical rooms. Kalinowski's surgery took four hours with Dr. Jeffrey Cooper, chief, Division of Kidney Transplant Surgery. Urology surgeon Dr. David Wang removed Petrides' kidney in about a three-hour surgery, each procedure timed to connect the kidney as quickly as possible.
Both Kalinowski and Petrides praised the entire Boston Medical Center staff, from surgical teams to the support staff at every level.
“It was working before they even closed me up,” Kalinowski said of his new kidney.
Nurse Curreri and Cooper both had equal praise last week for Kalinowski and Petrides. The two men followed every instruction, made frequent long drives to Boston, took medical directives seriously and yet “provided lots of laughs along the way.” They regaled their medical team with stories about their days as Norwich police officers.
One day last August, a Boston Medical Center staffer told Kalinowski that Curreri was away to be with her newborn granddaughter, Charlotte. Curreri said afterward that Kalinowski never failed to ask how Charlotte was doing.
Curreri said she received more than 50 phone calls from people wanting to donate a kidney for Kalinowski after The Day story last June. She said the woman ahead of Petrides also knew him and was eager to offer a kidney for him. But the final test ruled her out, and Petrides was next on the list.
Cooper said many transplant patients are anxious about the surgery, before and after. But Kalinowski remained calm.
“He was one of these guys, even the morning of surgery, he didn’t seem particularly worried about anything,” Cooper said. “He just always kind of took everything in stride. He was funny, but also just very relaxed about things. I hope it was a reflection of confidence in the job we can do. It was pretty extraordinary.”
Boston Medical Center performs about 10 to 20 live kidney transplants per year, of the 40 to 50 total kidney transplants per year, Curreri said. The center would love to increase the percentage of living donors, because of better success experiences.
“The kidney worked right away,” Cooper said. “We always stress that one of the advantages of getting a living donor is that the kidneys function right away. His lab tests all looked good. He never needed dialysis again.”
Petrides went home with a colorful new T-shirt that says "I'm a BMC Hero" with a flying superhero on the front and logos for Donate Life, New England and Boston Medical Center on the back.
Kalinowski's new kidney sits in his lower right abdomen, his two nonfunctioning kidneys still in place. He has been going to Boston every Wednesday for post-operative exams and blood tests to adjust his numerous medicines. He gradually has increased his activities but still is limited in how much he can lift — about a gallon of milk — and cannot yet twist his body. He has an 11-inch, L-shaped scar.
Petrides has a much smaller 3-inch incision and spent only three days in the Boston hospital.
Not surprisingly, their two families have grown much closer. Lynda Petrides is working on scheduling a dinner with Kalinowski and his wife, Dianne. The Kalinowskis have two grown children, Paul, 29, and Alysha, 26, a critical care nurse who first became alarmed at her father’s symptoms in 2020 and alerted his physician. The Petrides have four grown children: William, 35; Elizabeth, 33; Joseph, 27, and Tim, 25.
Kalinowski, of Polish and Irish descent, jokes that he now “has some Greek in me.”
“You’re part of the family now,” Dianne Kalinowski said to Petrides.
The men’s conversations readily turn to their days on the beat for the Norwich Police Department. Kalinowski started in 1982 and was a detective when Petrides applied in 1993 after spending 12 years in the Army. Kalinowski was assigned to do Petrides’ background check and said he knew instantly by the way he carried himself and was so prepared for the interview that Petrides had a military background.
Petrides loved his days as a downtown Norwich bicycle patrol officer. He helped back up narcotics officers in what were then drug activity hot spots. Kalinowski preferred the motorcycle patrols. They recalled the teasing the two types of bike patrol officers would give one another, as in, “Oh yeah, can you do this?”
One day, Petrides and another bicycle officer were at Norwich Harbor when a call came in about a stabbing at the top of nearby Jail Hill, a clifftop neighborhood that overlooks the harbor. Petrides huffed and puffed his way up the steep streets and recalled thinking, “Man, when I get there, I’m not going to be able to do anything. I’m spent.”
Kalinowski retired in 2003 and launched a second career as a mortician at Church & Allen & Labenski Funeral Homes in Norwich. He had to give that up when he became ill in 2020.
Petrides retired as a Norwich police officer in 2011, when he started working as a sub base police officer. Doctors cleared him to work again, and he is considering a part-time position working with young students in Plainfield schools.
Kalinowski does not yet know what his next career move will be, as he is cleared by his doctors to become more active. On March 28, he had surgery to remove his dialysis catheter and a bladder stent. He looks forward to camping again, since he no longer is tied to a dialysis machine at night.
“I will wait and see what the doctors say I’m capable of doing long term, short term or whatever,” Kalinowski said. “I’m too energetic and young to retire.”