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Domenica Leto hugs Jason Gaddy at a press conference marking YNHH's 1,000th living-donor kidney transplant. Gaddy gave a kidney to Domenica, the mother of his childhood friend, Joey, who died while serving in the Marine Corps. At right is Gaddy's wife, Jacqueline.

On May 10, 49 years after the first living-donor kidney transplant at Yale New Haven Hospital, surgeons performed the 1,000th procedure here.

At a press conference to mark this major milestone, Transplantation Center physicians and staff turned the spotlight on the donors, who have made it possible for 1,000 kidney recipients to mark many milestones in their own lives.

"We're lucky," Richard Formica, MD, medical director, YNHH Kidney Transplant Program, said at the May 27 press conference. "We get a window on people that most other people don't see. When you work with these living donors, you realize there are a lot of people out there who really care, and who are really giving. Living donors are our antidote to despair."

Most people think of organs coming from deceased donors, but living donation is "incredibly important," said David Mulligan, MD, Transplantation Center director. During the press conference, he announced a new center for living donors at YNHH that will provide, among other services, long-term, follow-up care at no out-of-pocket cost to the donors.

Jason Gaddy is an example of how important living donors are. He became YNHH's 1,000th kidney donor after learning that Domenica Leto, the mother of his childhood friend, had progressive kidney failure and needed a transplant. Gaddy grew up with Domenica's son, Joey, and the two remained friends after high school. Sadly, Joey died in 1999 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. In honor of Joey, and to help a woman he's known for nearly 30 years, Gaddy donated his kidney to Domenica.

She and other members of the Leto family brought a photo of Joey in his Marine uniform to the press conference. With the event held just before Memorial Day, the military connection carried special significance,  particularly when Victor Cappuzzo, Gaddy's grandfather and a Korean War veteran, made an emotional, surprise appearance. Cappuzzo said he wasn't surprised by the actions of his grandson, whom he called "special."

Gaddy said he was honored to be the 1,000th donor and help his friend's mother.

"To be able to have an impact on somebody's life – you don't have that opportunity very often."