Greek American embraces life as he waits for a donor
By David Bjorkgren , Special to the Hellenic News of America
“I am like a sling-shot, pulled way back and just waiting to be hurled back into my life doing the things I used to do before I began dialysis.”
So begins a Facebook post for Tommy Kontis, a Greek American who is reaching out in the hope of finding a kidney donor through his Find a Kidney Donor campaign.
Kontis has been on the national tissue and organ registry for nearly four years (May 29, 2017 marks the fourth year anniversary).
The 51-year-old is married with a 13-year-old son, adding poignancy and urgency to his situation.
“The best thing about this moment in my life is that I have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad to my only son. He’s 13 years old and probably lends more help to me in my condition than I do to him, but he and my wife are my heartbeats and the finest treasures I have in the world,” Kontis writes on his Facebook page. “My wife is a strong person to whom I wanted to give a rosy life. She instead accepted my rose graciously even with the thorns that came with it and somehow helped make an incredibly beautiful life for me and our son.”
He has been on dialysis for 15 hours a week these past four years, ever since he was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Kontis describes himself as a man who loves to help and motivate others so they do not give up.
“However, now I’m trapped in a vortex dealing with chronic kidney disease and dialysis and never ending medical appointments trying to just remain alive long enough to receive a kidney transplant,” he writes.
He talks openly about the impact his disease has had on his health, his career and his spirits.
“It’s frustrating and lonely living this way. I am 51 years old with a lot of life ahead of me that I’d like to live and share with my loved ones, friends, and my community, but I can’t do it without your help. I need you to be my donor!” he writes on Facebook.
Kontis is a first generation Greek immigrant who came to America with his parents who were looking for an opportunity to improve their lives. His parents opened a pizzeria and soon put him to work there.
“I worked very hard at the pizzeria and found so many nuggets of wisdom about life as well as the importance of hard work and dedication to your craft,” he writes. “Those lessons are carrying me even to this day.”
Building on the experience he gained from the family business, Kontis later opened his own pizzeria, working 70 hours a week “trying to survive.”
Tech jobs were taking people out of the community, then the big pizza chains moved in and “laid waste” to the small “mom and pop” pizza businesses.
“I held out for a long time before finally selling to pursue other endeavors and spend more time with my family, including my then newly born son,” he writes.
Kontis took his passion for automobiles and got a job at a local Toyota dealership, his dream job.
“The guys there knew me as a cheerful salesman who didn’t take anything for granted. In a relatively short period of time, I was moved up the chain to be the sales manager. It was one of the most rewarding jobs that I have had because I was able to help my sales team progress and grow,” he writes.
He’s proud of the fact that he offered mentorship and guidance to some of the staff that others had given up on.
“Some became the best salesmen we had at my dealership. I felt like I was doing something great because not only was I helping others build confidence in their own abilities, I was also helping them provide for their families,” he writes.
Then his kidneys stopped working.
“I loved my job and was sad to leave it, but I had to because I hit the wall,” he writes.
His sudden kidney failure left him wiped out, lethargic and ill.
“For the past few years I have been doing dialysis, daddy duties, honey do’s and everything possible while waiting for a call saying a compatible donor has been found. Yet, no calls have come and I am ready to put down my defenses against CKD; ready to end this battle against chronic kidney disease; I’m ready to get up and out of the dialysis chair and jump into living a healthy quality life which can only be done if I receive a transplant,” he writes.
It’s not easy for him to ask for help from anyone, Kontis writes, but “I need to ask for help if I am going to have a second chance at life.”
There are 100,000 others in need of a kidney in this country and 12 people die each day waiting for one to become available.
Dialysis, he writes, is only supposed to be a temporary treatment to keep you alive until a transplant is available.
“How much longer can I go? It is a constant struggle,” he writes. “I am currently an ideal candidate for a kidney transplant. Will you help me?”
Human beings only require one healthy kidney to live a full life span, and doctors are getting very good at doing transplant procedures.
“The first transplant took place in 1954 and for over 60 years they have become rather efficient in performing the procedure and doctors have become so skilled that it takes only a few days of recovery before the donor can get back to their usual day-to-day activities,” he writes.
There are thousands of living donors who describe the experience of donating as the proudest thing they have ever done and would do it again if they could, Kontis writes.
“You can help me without suffering; you can help me without dying, so will you help me?”
To be considered as a living donor for Tommy Kontis, call the Transplant Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania at 215-662-6200. Kontis is registered there. Just tell them you are interested in being evaluated to be a living donor for Thomas Kontis.
“I am “B” blood type, however, even if you are not a blood type match, you would not necessarily be unable to donate and the Transplant Center can explain that to you in detail,” he writes.
Finally, Kontis points out that the church approves of organ and tissue donations, seeing it as representing the highest humanitarian ideals and the ultimate charitable act.
Should you be unable to donate to Tommy Kontis at this time, he still urges you to register as an organ and tissue donor.
“You can simply visit the Donate Life America website or your state registry and can give someone a second chance at life!” he writes.