Gerardo Trueba wants to thank Alex Koehne's mother for saving his life.
"Because of her I am alive," said the former truck driver from the Bronx. "I want to thank her. She saved my life. She saved my life," he repeated with emotion.
Trueba, 47, was one of four people who received an organ from Koehne after he died on March 30 last year. The 15-year-old Sag Harbor boy had been diagnosed with partially treated bacterial meningitis. B
ut Koehne didn't respond to antibiotics and tests did not show signs of bacteria, so after he died, his mother, Lisa, and father, Jim, asked that a brain autopsy be done.
Because the autopsy revealed Alex had died of a rare lymphoma, the kidney Trueba had received at New York University Medical Center was removed. Trueba had waited eight years for the kidney.
To be honest I feel terrible. ... ," Trueba said. "I don't know when I can get another kidney."
The other donated kidney also was removed from its recipient, who is recovering well, according to an article in the January issue of the American Journal of Transplantation. But the liver recipient and pancreas recipient subsequently died from the cancer.
Until the autopsy results came back, Trueba was enjoying a new lease on life.
"I was doing excellent," he said. "I didn't want to believe it. It was like a bad joke."
Trueba said he learned of the Koehnes after he saw a Newsday article 10 days ago.
He has filed a lawsuit against NYU and the New York Organ Donor Network, the nonprofit group that oversees organ donation in the metropolitan area. The suit charges that both institutions performed "negligently and carelessly ... and in a manner which departed from the standard of good and accepted medical practice."
Trueba's lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, of Manhattan, said he hoped that the case would change transplant protocols. NYU and University of Minnesota, which transplanted the pancreas, said they have changed their policy to now require proof of bacterial meningitis -- a diagnosis that does not prevent transplantation -- before they will accept an organ. Shapiro called that "a step in the right direction" but said that the policy should have been in place before Trueba received the diseased kidney.
Alex Koehne was treated at Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook University Medical Center. Stony Brook would not say whether it has changed its policy because of the case. "For every case we follow standards as established by UNOS [United Network for Organ Sharing] ... and NYODN [ New York Organ Donor Network]," Stony Brook spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said in a statement.
Trueba, who underwent chemotherapy and is back on dialysis three days a week, credits Lisa Koehne for asking for the autopsy. He believes that saved his life.
And Trueba, who said he hoped to meet the Koehnes, said he wants the family to know how much he admires them.
"They are wonderful people," he said "They shouldn't feel bad. They did an excellent thing. In a way, they are blaming themselves and they shouldn't. It took courage to donate the organs."
Lisa Koehne said Tuesday she wanted to meet Trueba, too.
"Definitely," she said.