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'Hopefully, someone will come forward to help.' Scarsdale son fights to save mom on organ donation list

Thursday marked National Kidney Awareness Day. In New York, there are more people waiting for an organ transplant than in almost any other part of the country.

Tara Rosenblum

Mar 11, 2022, 3:43 AM

Updated 858 days ago


Thursday marked National Kidney Awareness Day. In New York, there are more people waiting for an organ transplant than in almost any other part of the country.
It's the reason a Scarsdale family made the decision to Turn To Tara to get the word out about their increasingly desperate medical fight, made even worse during COVID-19.
Matt Leitner hands out flyers on kidney donations to the community. He is on a mission to save his mother because he knows it could be the kindness of a stranger that ultimately saves her life. 
MORE: Information on living kidney donation
MORE: Donor4Sue Campaign
MORE: Donor4Sue Website, Donor4Sue Facebook, Donor4Sue Instagram: @donor4sue, Donor4Sue email: donor4sue@gmail.com 

It's been two years now since a rare disease sent his mom's kidney into failure. A dialysis machine now keeps the 63-year-old alive.
"It's the only thing keeping me alive at this point," says Susan Leitner.  
While Susan Leitner's deteriorating health might not be immediately obvious, she told News 12 senior investigative reporter Tara Rosenblum that she is a shadow of her former self.
"I'm tired, my body doesn't work the same way.  It's just scary. Frightening," she says.
This seems to be what life is like for those who are waiting on one of the longest transplant wait lists in North America, where roughly 8,400 patients are praying for a lifesaving organ that might never arrive on time. It's not uncommon for a New Yorker to wait five years or longer on the list.
The Turn To Tara team spent nearly two years digging deeper into the crisis that claims roughly 500 local lives each year. The team heard from dozens of patients, such as Tara McKeegan, of Pearl River. who left New York to join another organ wait list out of state.
McKeegan said it was either leave New York, join another wait list - or die.
Much to her shock, she was back home in Rockland County within two months, with two new lungs.
News 12 planned to share her story and data in early 2020, but the report got put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic became the new urgent race to save lives. It did bring the transplant world to a near standstill, as transplants could not be performed on anyone from anyone who was COVID-19 positive.  Doctors could also not recover organs from anyone who had COVID-19, too. In the early days of the pandemic, local transplants were down a staggering 90%, but most patients like Leitner just couldn't risk traveling out of state like McKeegan did. 
"I've have thought about it," says Leitner. "COVID prevented me from going all over the place...at this point. I don't want to travel."
New York's organ advocacy community also lost one of its most passionate fighters. McKeegan died a year ago at age 41 after a brief battle with coronavirus.
Matthew Leitner is hoping more New Yorkers consider live organ donorship.
'Hopefully, someone will come forward to help," he says. 
Doctors say becoming a live donor is low risk and there is minimal recovery involved.

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