Boss makes life-saving kidney donation to colleague

It is a tale of a teacher and a boss... and a life-saving decision.

For some thirty years, David Collins, a masonry instructor at Essex County Agricultural and Technical High School, has suffered kidney problems.

“For the longest time it was in check with medicine,” Collins said.

But then came November 2021 -- and a bout with Covid-19. After the illness, Collins’ kidney condition deteriorated significantly, such that he found himself in end-stage renal failure.

“That was the turning point for me as far as the way I felt,” he said. “I was exhausted. Always exhausted. They said, you need to start dialysis and you need to start looking for a kidney.”

Dialysis temporarily saved his life -- but at a significant cost. For more than three hours every other day, Collins was hooked up to a machine that cleansed his blood. He couldn’t travel. He couldn’t live a normal life. The ultimate answer was a kidney transplant.

But, like other organs, donated kidneys are in short supply, with the National Kidney Foundation estimating the annual need in the U.S. at 100,000 organs.

Collins’ daughter Shelby was determined to beat those odds. She began a social media campaign in search of a living donor -- someone who was compatible with her father and could live without one of their kidneys.

“I put a post on Facebook. I put a post on Instagram and I just said, please share,” Shelby Collins said. “That post shared on Facebook thousands of times.”

Offers to help poured in -- even from across the country. And some of Collins’ colleagues agreed to be tested -- including Heidi Riccio, Ed.D., who, as superintendent of Essex Aggie, is David’s boss. She’s also boss to Shelby -- who serves as Riccio’s executive assistant.

“She was set on testing and signing up and going through the process,” Shelby said.

The process determined Riccio was a perfect match.

“When I actually found out I was shocked,” Shelby said. “I really didn’t think it would be her.”

Riccio seemed surprised, too.

“We didn’t know each other six years ago,” the Superintendent said. “But then here we are and he needs a kidney and then I sign up and it’s a perfect match.”

Riccio said she was raised to help others whenever possible -- and this all seemed so fateful.

“There is a higher power that puts you in a place to be able to help somebody,” she said. “And then you make that decision.”

Riccio’s decision was to donate one of her kidneys to David Collins -- which she did last month.

“For me, it was more about doing something for somebody else,” she said.

David Collins, of course, is eternally grateful.

“How do you even explain it,” he said. She donated a part of herself.”

Riccio and Collins are both doing fine -- with both gradually resuming normal activities which includes, for Riccio, training for a half-marathon, and, for Collins, playing lots of golf.

As for Shelby Collins... well, she always loved her boss. But now?

“Now she is family,” Shelby said. “She is just the biggest inspiration. I love her so much and to work and have someone like that as a boss, a mentor, is really special.”

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW