When Erica Martone, of Kearny, met Steve Rocha, also of Kearny, she was up front with him from the get-go. She had a serious affliction, known as Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). She told him it would likely one day require her to have a kidney transplant.
“You can have mine,” he says to Erica back then.
You’ll forgive her if she was a bit skeptical of Steve’s offer early on in their courtship.
“I said, ‘Yeah, OK, sounds good,’” at the time, Erica says.
Now fast forward many years.
Erica Martone becomes Erica Martone Rocha, the couple has two kids and live in Nutley now — and until just a few weeks ago, Erica still had just her own kidneys. But her ailment was getting worse. The transplant was becoming more necessary.
And, though odds are listed as 1 in 100,000 — Erica thinks the odds are really much higher, but can’t find the stats anywhere — Steve got tested. And somehow, against the odds, her husband was a complete match.
They had the same blood type — A — though neither knows whether it’s A- or A+. The fact is, their blood type — and many other medical qualities necessary for the transplant — were a perfect match.
And so, a few weeks ago, the two underwent surgeries at the transplant center at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Both surgeries have, thus far, been amazingly successful.
The couple are now back in their Nutley home, recovering well. But it’s been a long road from meeting, marrying, starting a family, to the transplant — to looking ahead. So let’s go back and explain in detail. We had to tell the important part of the story — their unbelievable match — up front.
PKD RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Polycystic Kidney Disease, unfortunately, is hereditary. Erica’s mom had it, too, and was able to get to the age of 55 before it was evident she’s need a transplant. For Erica, the need arose at a much earlier age, 44, the age she is now.
“My decline was much faster,” Erica says. “I was surprised it was all happening so fast. The doctor asked me if I was still good with my husband (jokingly). So the doctor then said it was time to start the process — the evaluation — as to whether he would be a match.”
So with the testing underway, the blood was crossmatched in a laboratory to see if would mix well together.
Now, since one of the Rochas was a donor and the other a recipient, they had different transplant coordinators.
“One day, his coordinator called looking for Steve, but he was at work,” Erica recalls. “He told me Steve is a match! I could get his kidney.”
Wasting no time, Erica called Steve forthwith at work. She rarely does that, but in this case, it was a necessary exception to the norm. When she ultimately got Steve on the phone, he said, “Someone up there meant for us to be together.”
The doctor wanted Erica, despite this great news, to hold onto her own kidneys for as long as possible. If the transplant didn’t take and she rejected the new organ from her husband, it would translate into laborious kidney dialysis on a regular basis.
So as of now, Erica actually has three kidneys inside of her — and all three are functioning properly.
At present, tests reveal no signs of organ rejection. So if that all continues — and let’s all pray it does — she’ll hold onto her own until and when one shows signs of no longer being of function.
Erica says since the surgery June 8, she’s felt some fatigue. But doctors have told her once she fully recovers, she won’t believe how much energy she’ll feel.
In the interim, she couldn’t sing the praises of the staff at St. Barnabas enough.
“Every single person, from the doctors to the nurses — everyone — went above and beyond. They became like family. They made me feel at home. One of the nurses was actually off the day I was discharged and I said to her, ‘So you’re not gonna be here when I leave?’”
Steve’s recovery is expected to last about seven weeks. Erica’s, three months or more.
And for now, she has to remain away from others because she’s on a regimen of immunosuppressant drugs that would make it much easier for her to get sick or develop infections. She’ll also take anti-rejection meds for the rest of her life.
And, unfortunately, the woman who says she loves being at the lake — she has a home on Greenwood Lake she’s been going to since she was a kid — will no longer be able to just dive in anymore.
“Freshwater lakes are off limits,” the doctor told her. The algae and bacteria would be too dangerous. She’ll be able to dip her feet into the lake, “But it’s just not the same,” she says. “I try to look on the bright side of things, but this one’s tough to get over.”
But she says she knows she will get over it, because she’s blessed to be alive and in otherwise good health.
So for now, she’ll be spending time at home with Steve and daughters Sofia, 12, and Madelyn, 10. In fact, Sofia just graduated from middle school and the principal set up a special section for the family — away from everyone else in attendance — so they could attend.
“This principal was just amazing,” she says.
Another amazing person in Erica’s life is her sister-in-law, Evelyn Rocha Carson, of Kearny, Steve’s sister.
“I’m am 20 years older than Steven is,” Carson says. “Even though there is an age difference, we are very close. I’m so proud of him. He never thought twice about giving Erica his kidney. He always told me how much he loves her, and it shows. Not too many men would actually say that, but he did.”
And everyone involved, especially Erica, is better off from it.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.