Retired DSNY Worker Seeks Liver Donation

 Retired DSNY Worker Seeks Liver Donation

John and Debbie

By Katie McFadden

Got a piece of liver to spare? Local resident John Zdyrko, a retired Department of Sanitation hero, is holding out hope for a match and another chance at life.

Did you know when you donate a portion of your healthy liver as a living donor, to someone in need of a liver transplant, your liver will start to grow back within six to eight weeks? Within a few months, it’s back to its original size. That fact makes it a unique process among living donors who are able to donate things like kidneys and bone marrow. Next to kidneys, livers also happen to be one of the most needed organs for transplant. With such high demand, a living donor has the power to speed up the waiting process for a patient in need, to give them that second chance at life.  Zdryko and his family are hoping for that chance.

When Debra Starkman-Zdyrko, who retired from the NYPD’s Transit District 23, speaks of her husband of 40 years, she speaks of him with adoration. “His whole thing in life is putting others before himself,” she said. Besides being there for his family, Zdryko dedicated much of his life to civil service, working as a sanitation worker in Rockaway’s Q14, and going above and beyond when needed. “He was instrumental in helping out after Hurricane Sandy. He worked around the clock. I didn’t see him from the night of Sandy until Thanksgiving. He slept in the garage. It was just nonstop. He and his guys pulled the neighborhood together,” she said.

A year and a half later, he put that extra time in again when he found out the funeral for fallen NYPD officer Dennis Guerra would be held in Rockaway in 2014. “It was his day off and he volunteered to go in early to make sure the streets were perfect for everyone arriving for the funeral,” she said. Unfortunately, Zdryko almost lost his own life that day. “He was on Cross Bay by the bird sanctuary and John got rear ended by a car that came out of nowhere. His car rolled. He broke the whole left side of his body,” she said. It forced Zdryko into retirement two years early. “He recovered, but he was never the same after that,” she said.

Since that near-fatal accident, John has had several other health issues. In 2017, a mysterious internal bleed landed him in the hospital, requiring emergency surgery to determine what was wrong. The hospital stay resulted in 13 coils being placed around his intestine. In 2019, John was hit with another blow when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early enough and was able to be removed.

Among those issues, Zdryko’s liver was facing its own battle, as he had hepatitis C many years ago, which he was cured of, but left him with cirrhosis. And in April, doctors found a nodule in his liver. Although not a concern at the time, two months later at an MRI appointment, doctors determined it was cancerous. In a few weeks, John will undergo an ablation to burn off the cancerous nodule to keep it from spreading, but in early July, John was given the news that ultimately, he needs a liver transplant.

Zdryko has begun the process of undergoing testing to be placed on the liver transplant list, but with the waitlist for a liver from a deceased donor being eight months to a year, the doctors at NYU Langone advised the Zdrykos that there’s no time to waste and encouraged them to seek out a living donor. “We were told the outcome with transplants from a living donor is much better than a deceased donor and either way, he’s not even on the list yet with all of this pre-testing being done. They advised us to reach out to as many people as we know to let them know what’s going on,” Debra said.

Reflecting on her own health struggle, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, Debbie says John was there for her every step of the way from diagnosis to remission. “He was the best nurse in the world,” she said. But being over 60, her age prevents her, and all of their close family and friends, from being donors. So, with the encouragement of the doctors, she put out a call for help on Facebook, in the hopes that anyone can help.

Willing donors with blood type O are encouraged to get tested. Candidates must be between the age of 18 and 60, have overall good physical and mental health, have a BMI of 34 or lower and should not have conditions like diabetes, active cancer, HIV, liver disease, active infections or a psychiatric condition requiring treatment. Those that qualify can contact the living donor line at NYU Langone with any questions at 212-263-8133 and select Option 4.

Despite going through so much, Debbie says John is in good spirits. “He’s been through so much and his attitude is ‘well, that’s the way it is. What are you gonna do? Everything will work out.’ He’s really positive,” she said. “But he’s really been through it. It’s like he’s part cat.”

For those unable to be an organ donor, the Zdrykos, who are active parishioners at St. Francis de Sales, are requesting something less invasive—prayers. They’ve consulted with someone who knows a thing or two about transplants, having undergone two kidney transplants himself—Fr. Jim Cunningham, who they say offered advice and will also be asking fellow parishioners to consider getting tested at Mass. In the meantime, the Zdrykos hope their prayers will be answered.

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