Diocesan News

Retired Teacher’s Search for New Kidney Comes to a Happy Ending

Debra Molloy (right) received a helping hand in her quest for a new kidney from her former student Christine Whalen, who helped her publicize her medical emergency. (Photo: Courtesy of Christine Whalen)

HUNTINGTON STATION — It was the phone call that changed Debra Molloy’s life.

Molloy, a retired Catholic school teacher whose desperate search for a kidney donor was chronicled on the pages of The Tablet,  received a phone call on Dec. 1 with good news — a kidney had been found.

Within hours of that fateful call, Molloy underwent a five-hour kidney transplant operation at NYU Langone Health on Manhattan’s East Side, then spent five days in the hospital. Since her release, she has been recuperating at her home in Huntington Station, Long Island, feeling grateful to God, her family, and all of the people who prayed for her.

“I know I’ve been given a new lease on life,” said Molloy, a former teacher and principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Queens Village. “And I know that prayer really works.”

“I think it was a Christmas miracle,” said Christine Whalen, a friend of Molloy’s who helped her publicize her need for a kidney. “The fact that the call came on Dec. 1 is no coincidence. I really believe there was divine intervention at work here.”

Whalen also couldn’t get over the fact that Molloy was on the transplant list for only five months when she got the call. “There are people who are on the list for years,” she said.

Molloy is pleased with her recovery. She is feeling a little stronger with each passing day, although she remains largely confined to her home for the time being. She is looking forward to returning to some of her favorite activities — like walking her dog Sadie — soon.

Molloy is currently on a regimen of pills — she takes 11 pills every morning and another seven at night — to improve her stamina and ensure that her body doesn’t reject the new kidney. She also has to leave her house once a week to go to a lab in Garden City for blood work. “The only way to tell if your body is rejecting a new organ is through a blood test,” she explained.

Molloy has been told next to nothing about the kidney donor. She only knows that the donor was male, died from respiratory disease and was 15 years younger than her. “I wish I could send a ‘Thank You’ letter to the family. The donor’s generosity saved my life,” she said.

The transplant was necessary because Molloy was suffering from interstitial nephritis, a serious disorder in which the kidney tubules become inflamed and cause problems with kidney function.

She was diagnosed in 2015 and remembers being shocked by the news. “I just thought it was a stomach bug,” she recalled. “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.’” 

Molloy is grateful for the help she received in her search for a new kidney, particularly the assistance she got from Whalen, a former student, who spread the word about her need for a new kidney on social media.

Molloy was Whalen’s first grade teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes School way back in 1980 and the two reconnected several years later. Whalen saw her role in helping the kidney search as a way of giving back to one of her favorite teachers. 

Molloy taught at Our Lady of Lourdes for 37 years and later served as the principal until the school closed in 2018. She then taught first-grade at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Flushing until her retirement in 2021.

Whalen, who has a background in marketing and public relations, set up an Instagram account for Molloy. She also hosted a Facebook Live session where Molloy talked about her situation and asked people to get themselves tested as possible donors.

Despite the fact that she had been waiting and praying for a new kidney, Molloy missed the phone call from NYU Langone on Dec. 1. She was in another room in her house at that moment and didn’t hear the phone ring. “I listened to the voicemail and the person sounded so casual when he said they located a kidney for me,” she recalled.

But as soon as she heard the message, she called back immediately. “He asked me how quickly I could get to NYU and I said I live about 90 minutes away. He said, ‘Okay then, I’ll tell them you’ll be there at 12:30.’ And that was that,” she said.

Within three hours, she was in a hospital gown undergoing pre-op testing. At 6 p.m. she was being wheeled into the operating room. One sight she will never forget: her surgeon holding the new kidney in a metal container and examining the organ.

“I still can’t believe I went from being on a waiting list to having a new kidney in a matter of hours,” Molloy said.

The whole experience has brought her closer to her Catholic faith. “This all happened because of Jesus,” she said. “He was watching over me.”

Molloy and Whalen held another Facebook Live event in early January to wrap up Molloy’s story. 

The two women, who said the experience has brought them closer as friends, are turning their attention to raising awareness through social media of the importance of being an organ donor. “I now know how important it is,” Molloy said.

“I don’t know if anything I did contributed to Debra getting a kidney but I think we raised awareness of this issue. And that’s important,” Whalen said.

Molloy also pointed out the importance of faith. “It’s amazing how prayer works, and I know it works,” she said.