Long Island dad liver: Walter Zublionis waiting for a liver donor.
When Ronnie Reid’s phone rang last October with lifesaving news for her father she almost didn’t pick up.
The organ transplant coordinator at LiveOnNY, the federally designated agency that facilitates organ donation in New York, hates telemarketers and her first instinct was to let it ring.
When she saw it was from a colleague from work, calling her multiple times on her day off, she thought she’d better take it.
Though her 72-year-old father, Walter Zublionis, had been waiting for a liver donor for nearly a decade, it never occurred to her that the call could be about him.
The outlook for her dad looked grim — just a month earlier, a doctor had told them not to make plans for Christmas.
But the call was no timeshare opportunity. It was a match for her father.
“My heart just stopped,” said Reid, 50.
Well aware of the time-sensitive nature of transplant procedures from her work, Reid tried desperately to reach Zublionis, who had turned off his phone for the night because he, too, was annoyed by frequent telemarketing calls.
“I was ready to call 911!” said Ronnie, who lives 40 miles away in Port Jefferson. “Just to get someone over to (him).”
Finally, Reid’s husband jumped in the car and drove to Zublionis’ place in East Moriches, L.I., and started banging on the door so loudly that his father-in-law thought there was a fire.
When he heard there was a liver available, Zublionis said he was stunned.
“Walking into the operating room, it suddenly hit me — what was about to happen,” he said.
His procedure at New York-Presbyterian Hospital went smoothly, and Zublionis got a second chance at life.
Because of the lifesaving transplant, he has seen his grandson become a police academy grad, and has celebrated Reid’s birthday with her.
“I remember years ago, first seeing the grandchildren, I always wondered: ‘Will I live to see one of them married?’ Now I got a good shot at it,” he said.
Having worked as a transplant coordinator for the past five years, and a nurse for 28 years, Reid is accustomed to the process. But to have her own father as a transplant recipient changed the way she sees her work.
“It was full circle to the extreme. I got to feel first-hand what I give to people,” she said. “It makes it much more emotional for me, which I guess, in turn, makes you fight a little harder. When I make that phone call (to someone waiting for an organ) I can now literally feel that emotion that someone else is going to feel.”
Zublionis plans on volunteering with Reid for LiveOnNY’s Donor Enrollment Day this October, to get more people signed up to donate their organs. He said he hopes to meet his donor family in the future.
“You get one life,” Reid said, tearing up.
“But I got two,” Zublionis interrupted. “And that’s only because one person said yes. Somebody was so selfless. It is the ultimate gift.”