- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - As Richard Finlay sat in the surgical waiting room of UMass Memorial Medical Center on Tuesday morning, he couldn’t help but be thankful for the young woman who was willing to make a decision that would help prolong his life.

Two of Finlay’s three children attend Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer, and when special-education teacher Kaitlin O’Connell heard the 52-year-old Ayer resident would die without a transplant, she knew she had to step in.

Finlay has been on dialysis for the last year because his kidneys were currently only functioning at 6 percent. Finlay suffers from polycystic kidney disease, a disorder passed through families in which cysts form in the kidneys, causing them to enlarge.

His two older brothers also suffer from the disorder, and Finlay is the second of the siblings to receive a transplant. His grandfather died from the disease, and his father received a kidney from his elderly mother.

O’Connell, 28, had previously tried to be a liver donor for her father, Barry, who is in liver failure, but she was not an ideal match and was denied.

Barry O’Connell contracted hepatitis when he was 18 after he and his friends gave each other tattoos. Everyone he was with that day likely contracted the disease.

The hepatitis has been treated, but he’s in stage 4 liver failure, and the disease is attacking his lungs.

Finlay called O’Connell’s decision to donate to him “selfless” and said without the transplant or continuing on dialysis three a time a week, he would likely die.

His wife, Karen, said the process leading up to the transplant hasn’t been easy.

“At times, it’s been stressful,” she said while sitting in the waiting room as O’Connell was prepped for her portion of the surgery. “It was a long time waiting. Some days we were down, and some days we were up.”

She remembers the day O’Connell came by their house to tell them she was going to donate her kidney.

Richard Finlay, who works for Verizon, wasn’t home from work yet, and Karen was eating dinner with the couple’s three children.

She remembers there was a knock at the door, and when she answered it, there was a teacher she knew with someone she didn’t.

“They had a beautiful cake with them, and I just thought they had stopped by to check in on us like so many people had,” she said. “Kaitlin introduced herself to me as my husband’s donor, and I was just completely shocked.”

She said she was unable to speak while her children were in the background yelling and screaming with excitement.

Richard Finlay said he came home from work shortly after and didn’t recognize the car in the driveway.

“My wife came to the door and told me I had company,” he said. “I usually tinker around outside for a while before I go in.”

He went into the house and met O’Connell, and he just remembers it was like a weight being lifted off of his shoulders.

“When the hospital called to tell us there was a donor, they couldn’t tell us who they were in case they want to remain anonymous,” he said. “It has to be up to them if they want to identify themselves.”

Finlay expected to be in the operating room for six to eight hours, and will have a scar between 10 and 15 inches long. He will have to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life, but said it’s a small price to pay.

He’ll be in the hospital for at least a week, while O’Connell will likely be released in just a few days.

The Finlays’ 14-year-old son, John, was at the hospital with his family, while their other two children, Conor, 11, and Shealyn, 10, opted to go to school.

“I just want it to go well,” John Finlay said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. He’s always been there for me with anything I’ve ever needed. This is the least I could do, to be here for him and support him.”

As O’Connell was getting prepped for her surgery, slated to take at least four hours to complete, she said she was nervous the night before but she had no apprehension that this was the right decision for her.

“I’m not nervous anymore now that I’m here,” she said in her hospital room. “This couldn’t be a better family, and I’m just really excited to do this for them.”

She said her family has been supportive during the process, and she plans to stay with her parents while she recovers.

“My dad’s been a basket case, for sure,” she said. “He’s really nervous for me.”

O’Connell came out of surgery at 2 p.m. Both her parents, as well as one of her five siblings, were able to see her in recovery.

While Barry O’Connell sat with his daughter, Susan O’Connell began making phone calls to friends and loved ones.

“She’s doing OK,” she told one. “She’s awake, but she’s in a lot of pain.”

Doctors were working to manage her pain, according to her mother.

Both O’Connell and Finlay were at home recovering comfortably with their families.

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