The minute you meet Tricia Fleishman — the moment her royal blue eyes look into yours — you know you want her to be your friend, your neighbor or your mom.
In your dreams, this generous, trusting, honest woman marries your brother — or saves your life.
Born and raised in Roslyn, N.Y., Tricia married Stanley, a Philadelphia native. Both happily taught special education on Long Island. In 1980, they moved to Philly because the family business, Fleishman Fabrics — merchants of buttons, snaps and zippers plus fabrics, tailor trimmings, dry-cleaner supplies and costumes — needed help.
In 1995, Stanley's sister, Wendy, developed retroperitoneal fibrosis, a non-cancerous but treacherous fibroid tumor that affected her kidneys and more.
"As the tumor grows," Tricia Fleishman explains, "it strangles the kidneys. One of her kidneys died years ago. For five years, she had to go into the hospital every 60 days for surgery. She would go home that evening and work the next day. She wouldn't let it beat her down."
Adds Fleishman of her sister-in-law: "It always amazed me how she kept going. Other people would be home on disability. She's a brilliant lawyer, and maybe she was able to be distracted by work."
Then there was the revelation, recalls Fleishman: "I remember the moment, five years ago, when I realized she needed a kidney."
"Who was around to donate a kidney?" says Fleishman. "Who were the possibilities? Not my husband, because he is diabetic. So I started considering how I felt about it.
"It was in the back of my mind for years. I knew I was the best option. I just never talked about it. Why did God give us two kidneys if we need only one?"
Last February, the harrowing routine procedure stopped being effective for Wendy. A new kidney would be her best chance to fight the disease. So her sister-in-law sought testing to see if their antigens matched. They did.
"No one tried to talk me out of it," she says. "Wendy was extremely grateful. She couldn't believe how definite I was.
"It was bigger than me. Part of the reason I am here on earth is to be able to help her. Everything pales in comparison with being able to give someone a life," she says.
"I want to convey to people how small a period of time the donation took out of my life — especially compared to what she and so many other people had to endure daily."
Doctors scheduled the transplantation for April. But screening tests showed that Fleishman had hyperparathyroidism, a condition that could have gone untreated for years — but that prevented her kidney donation.
But she wasn't going to let that stop her determination to donate her kidney.
She found a thoracic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, met him on a Wednesday and went under the knife the following Tuesday. "I had surgery one day, stayed home one day, went back to work the next day. Time was of the essence," she says.
One theme runs through Tricia Fleishman's conversations: Things happen for a reason.
"I derived pleasure out of being able to donate my kidney. I guess it fed a philanthropic need in me."
Surgeons swapped the kidneys on June 2. "My sister-in-law still has the disease, and now she's taking anti-rejection medicines, too," she says.
"But she is alive and practicing law."
Nearly 90,000 people in the United States — 6,000 people locally — are awaiting kidney donations. Last year, 6,600 people in the country — 300 people locally — donated kidneys.
Most kidneys come from healthy people. Last year, nearly half of all donors were not blood-related to the recipients.
Others — mostly people close to someone awaiting transplant — donate altruistically to strangers.
The Gift of Life Donor Program www.donors1.org, a nonprofit organization, recovers and distributes organs and tissues for transplants in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Howard Nathan, president and CEO, says, "If more people were willing to donate a kidney while they are alive and well, we could start to solve the national kidney problem."