HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's Senate president faced an uncertain wait for a new kidney until one day a longtime friend and local judge surprised him, telling him that he had been cleared to donate one of his kidneys.
New Haven Superior Court Judge Brian Fischer told Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney the good news in early December, after they attended a mutual friend's funeral.
"I surely recognized that Marty was not looking that good. And I knew at that time I was going to be the one selected to give my kidney," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview shortly after the successful Dec. 20 surgery. "I used that opportunity to give him the relief and peace of mind."
Looney said he was "stunned with gratitude" by Fischer's offer, adding that it left him speechless, "even someone like me who makes speeches for a living." Doctors at the Yale New Haven Hospital Transplantation Center had told him that more than 30 people contacted the center expressing interest in donating a kidney to the veteran Democratic politician, and eight were potential donors.
The center allowed Fischer to tell Looney himself.
"He broke down and said to me, 'Brian, how could I ever thank you for this gift,'" Fischer said. "And I indicated to him, a $25 gift certificate to Modern Pizza would be a good place to start."
Modern is one of several well-known pizzerias in Looney's beloved hometown of New Haven.
A practicing attorney and adjunct professor, Looney, 68, was first elected to the General Assembly as a member of the House of Representatives to represent the city in 1980. He was later elected to the Senate in 1993, moving up in the ranks to serve 12 years as majority leader. He was elected Senate president in 2015.
Looney has lived with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the neck and spine, since he was teenager. After taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for years to treat his condition, he was left with the long-term side effect of kidney problems. He told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the hospital last week that he was on the verge of needing dialysis.
"It was getting quite close. It would have been a matter of weeks or a couple of months, maybe," he said, adding that he had no idea how long it would be before a compatible donor was found. He said the new kidney is functioning well and he's very hopeful about his prospects.
Fischer said he was unaware that his friend needed a kidney until he read about how Looney's church had posted a plea for a donor on Facebook.
"I gave it some thought and thought, 'He's a great guy, a wonderful public servant. I've had a blessed life and thought maybe I should call and help out a dear friend,'" said Fisher, 63, who spent a day in the hospital for a battery of tests before learning that he was a match.
"It was exciting because I was very, very happy and humbled that I could help out," he said, adding how the staff at the Yale transplant center, especially Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni, the transplant surgeon, put him at ease. Both Looney and Fischer now hope their story will encourage more people to donate a kidney. It's estimated 120,000 Americans are in need of kidney transplants each year.
Looney was one of 52 patients who received donated kidneys at Yale this year.
Besides donating a kidney, Fischer has agreed to swear in Looney when he takes the oath of office again on Jan. 4 at the state Capitol. Looney, who said he's also grateful to Fischer's wife, Katie, for agreeing to the surgery, plans to get his friends that Modern Pizza gift certificate.