Diocesan News

Former Student Helps Teacher Search for Kidney Donor

From teacher and student to good friends, Debra Molloy (left) and Christine Whalen have grown closer during the search for a kidney donor.
(Photos: Courtesy of Christine Whalen)

QUEENS VILLAGE — Debra Molloy and Christine Whalen first met in Our Lady of Lourdes School in Queens Village in 1980, but they weren’t classmates. Molloy was Whalen’s first-grade teacher. 

“She was a wonderful teacher, and she taught me a lot. She certainly taught me to love school,”  Whalen said. “I’m in her debt.” 

One of the ways Whalen is trying to repay that debt is to hunt for a donor for Molloy, who suffers from a kidney disorder and needs a new one.

“I’m so touched that Christine is doing this for me,” Molloy said. “We have developed such a beautiful friendship. We’re not the teacher and student anymore.”

Whalen, who admitted that she has to catch herself when she’s about to call her former teacher “Miss Molloy” instead of Debra, has a background in marketing and public relations and is spreading the word about Molloy on social media, asking people to get tested as possible donors. 

She helped Molloy set up a page on the National Kidney Registry website as well as an Instagram account. She also hosted a recent Facebook Live session where Molloy talked about her health situation.

“Even if you’re not a match for Debra, you could be a match for someone else,” Whalen said, explaining that if people donate their kidneys in Molloy’s name, it helps move her up on the transplant list.

To date, several people have been tested, but none has been a match. 

Molloy suffers from Interstitial Nephritis, a serious disorder in which the kidney tubules become inflamed and cause problems with kidney function.

“It’s not like I’m at a critical point,” she said. “But anything can happen. If I get COVID or the flu or anything like that, it could exacerbate the kidney condition. That’s why my doctor had me start the process (of finding a donor) already.”

According to the American Kidney Fund, there are currently more than 92,000 people in the U.S. on the kidney transplant waiting list. And people in need of a kidney make up 87% of all people needing organ transplants.

A 2021 bout with pneumonia left Molloy’s kidneys weaker. If she doesn’t find a donor, she will eventually have to undergo dialysis. She explained that it is better for her to receive the kidney from a living donor as opposed to a kidney from a donor who is deceased.

Molloy was first diagnosed in 2015. “I remember I wasn’t feeling well. I just thought it was a stomach bug. I went to the urgent care (center), and the doctor took my blood. The next morning, she called me, and she said, ‘You have to get to the ER. Your kidneys are shutting down.’ They did all sorts of tests and found that I had Interstitial Nephritis,” she recalled.

With medication, she has been able to live a relatively normal life these past seven years.

Molloy is relying on her Catholic faith to help her cope. “I think of Jesus and think, ‘Well, he must be looking out for me.’ I do believe that will happen,” she said, referring to her chances of finding a donor.

Debra Molloy, shown here with her dog Sadie, remembered the outpouring of love and support from Our Lady of Lourdes School when she was diagnosed with a kidney disorder. “I received so many cards and letters, not just from my students, but from other kids in school as well,” she said.

Molloy taught at Our Lady of Lourdes for 37 years — teaching a fourth-grade class her first year— and then moving over to the first grade, where she spent the bulk of her career. She served as principal of Our Lady of Lourdes for two years until the school closed in 2018. She then got a job as a first-grade teacher at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Flushing and worked there until her retirement in 2021.

Molloy, who never married or had children, considers her students to be like family, and she has kept in touch with many of them in recent years, principally through Facebook. “I’m happy that I’ve reconnected with so many of my former students now that they’re now adults with kids of their own,” she said.

“She is connected to many of her former students through both social media and in real life. We have remained close friends throughout the years,” Whalen said. “She is the first to congratulate her ‘kids’ on their achievements.”

Whalen is amazed at her friend’s sense of recall. 

“She remembers students’ names from 40 years ago. I remember telling her about a boy in my class whose brother told him there was no Santa Claus,” she said. “I didn’t remember his last name, but she did.”

Whalen is happy to lend Molloy a hand in the donor search, saying, “I’m glad to do it because she’s not one to ask for help.” 

Molloy acknowledges that she’s shy about bringing attention to herself. 

“I’ve been learning how to get myself out there because I’m not the type of person that will stand there and say, ‘I need help’ or put a notice in somebody’s car window,” she said. “That’s not me. I can’t do that. But Christine has been teaching me.”

“The student is teaching the teacher a thing or two,” Molloy added.

Editor’s note: After publication of this article, Molloy got a new kidney. She received a call on Dec. 1 that a kidney became available and underwent a transplant operation that same day and is recuperating at home

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