She has one of his kidneys. Now, he has a piece of her heart.
In December, 9/11 hero firefighter Kevin Shea gave the gift of life to a total stranger — Lois Knudson, a 60-year-old special-ed teacher from Orange County, Calif. in desperate need of an organ transplant.
On Thursday, the two met for the first time.
“Thank you! It’s great to finally meet you in person!” a teary-eyed Knudson said as she hugged Shea in The Post’s Midtown office.
The embrace lasted almost a full minute, as Knudson clung to her savior.
“It’s kind of late now!’ the quirky former firefighter quipped, adding, “It’s really good to meet you too.”
“You messed up my makeup,” an emotional Knudson teased, playfully adding, “He’s cute! Good looking guy!”
“I did lose five pounds,” the 51-year-old Shea joked, referring to the weight of his now-gone left kidney.
Knudson suffered from a degenerative, always-fatal kidney disease that runs in her family, and killed both her sister and mother. She had been on a waiting list for an organ for four years and on dialysis for 15 months. Fourteen different friends or family members had tried to give their kidney to Knudson without success.
Shea, a third-generation firefighter from Long Island, had miraculously survived Sept. 11, 2001. He had just gone off-duty after finishing a 24-hour tour with Ladder 35 that morning but went back to work when the fateful alarm sounded. He was just outside the South Tower when it collapsed. His body battered and neck broken, Shea was found unconscious lying amid the twisted steel and crushed concrete near Albany and West streets. He was the only one of 13 members of his Upper West Side firehouse to make it out alive.
He was looking to pay his good fortune forward, and signed up for a program that allows living people to donate organs to anonymous individuals. He filled out a series of online questionnaires with the National Kidney Registry.
Knudson got the life-saving phone call two days before Thanksgiving that a match had been found, but she didn’t know anything abut the donor.
She was eligible for Shea’s donation only because her niece, Jessica Ellis, also donated her kidney to a stranger as part of a national “chain” of altruistic donations.
The SoCal resident, who grew up in New York City admiring firemen, got her Hollywood ending on Dec. 5.
Shea had his transplant surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and his kidney was packaged in a medical cooler, driven to Kennedy Airport, and put on a commercial flight to LAX. It was delivered to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where doctors gave Knudson her gift of life.
After Post inquiries, Shea agreed to tell his story and Knudson signed consent forms that allowed the teacher and retired firefighter to finally learn each other’s identities.
“It was more emotional than I thought,” Knudson told The Post afterward. Asked if she considered Shea a friend for life, the married teacher gushed, “Absolutely. Whether he wants me or not. He’s stuck with me!”
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