On Oct. 8, Cozze of Williams Township received a kidney from his brother-in-law, Tim Linzer of Annandale, N.J.
Cozze and Linzer have known each other for 18 years. Their wives, Bonnie Cozze and Terri Linzer, are sisters.
During one of many trips to Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, where the kidney transplant took place, Bonnie remembers telling her sister, “It’s a miracle that the guy you married is going to be able to save the guy I married.”
“I felt it was the right thing to do,” says Linzer, who felt he had to help. It would have taken several years for Cozze to move up on the list for a cadaver kidney.
Cozze is 51. “Most of me is 51 and part of me is 43,” he says, revealing the humor that has served him well since learning in October 2008 that he was in end-stage renal failure. (The younger part of him, of course, is the kidney from 43-year-old Linzer.)
Cozze never realized how sick he was. He did notice he was running out of energy quicker than usual. But, he says, “I was approaching 50, so I didn’t think much of it.”
Then he was hit with nausea and vomiting, from what he thought was a stomach virus. When it didn’t ease up, his wife convinced him to see a doctor, who did blood work, suspecting something more serious.
At 4:30 the next morning, Cozze got a call telling him to immediately go to the emergency room.
“I thought it was my heart,” he recalls. Instead, he was told they thought his kidneys were failing. He spent eight days in Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, N.J., undergoing “every test I think they could throw at you.”
When it was confirmed he was in kidney failure and he heard the word “transplant,” he was shocked. His chest tightened. He thought he was having a heart attack. Instead, it was anxiety.
His kidneys, he learned, were functioning at only 8 percent. “My nephrologist said I should not have been standing yet alone going to work every day.” He is co-owner of Cozze Brothers Used Auto Parts in Clinton, N.J.
Cozze had hypertension, most likely for a long time, but never knew it. Also known as high blood pressure, it’s a major cause of kidney failure, damaging blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the kidneys that remove wastes and extra fluid from the body.
“It doesn’t run in my family. I couldn’t feel it. And I never missed a day of work,” he says.
After starting dialysis immediately, he felt his energy return and realized he hadn’t been feeling up to par for at least four years. Three days a week, four hours a day he sat in dialysis for about four months. Then he switched to home dialysis, which required a catheter and a nine-hour period of time each day. He did it while he slept to free up daytime hours. He continued this regimen for about a year, still in denial that “a part of me had died,” he says.
By September 2009, he came to terms with it and he made his first visit to Einstein for his initial kidney transplant evaluation. That testing determined he also had MPGN, short for Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephritis, a rare kidney disorder that disrupts kidney function.
A friend offered to donate a kidney but wasn’t a match. In February, Linzer called Einstein’s living donor coordinator, Donna Jakeman-McGill, to offer his kidney for Cozze. On March 25, the day before his birthday, he learned he was a preliminary match but had to undergo much more testing, including psychological evaluation to be sure he understood the implications.
Although his wife was concerned, Linzer was prepared to move forward, particularly when he learned getting a kidney from a live donor was better for Cozze. It may last as long as 20-25 years as opposed to a cadaver kidney that’s good for about 10, he was told. And, as a live donor, he also was guaranteed to be first on the donor list if something would happen to his remaining kidney.
For his safety during surgery, Linzer had to lose weight and reduce his body mass index from 270 to 220. Within six months, he brought his BMI down to 216, losing 54 pounds in the process, just by eating right and watching his calories.
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