WEST CHESTER — A local police chief was honored by the Chester County Fraternal Order of Police last week for a selfless donation made quietly earlier this year.
Joseph Gleason, chief of the West Goshen Police Department, donated a kidney to a woman he had never met on May 1. On Dec. 19 he was presented with the county FOP’s Humanitarian of the Year award for changing the life of Megan Comerford, a 35-year-old mother of three from Decatur, Ill.
The process began in August 2011 when Gleason’s wife received an e-mail from the couple’s niece. The message explained that a complex kidney condition was affecting the woman’s sister, who was undergoing dialysis treatments and in need of a transplant.
Comerford, who was unaware of her sister’s e-mail until months later, said she was diagnosed with a complex kidney condition, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, in 2002. At the time of her diagnosis she still had 73 percent kidney function. In 2009 she went on the transplant list after tests revealed her kidney function had dropped below 20 percent. In 2011 she began dialysis treatments when her kidney function dropped to just 16 percent.
After learning of Comerford’s condition Gleason said he, and his wife and three adult children, began to discuss the possibility of searching for a match within the family. After the first round of blood tests Gleason was identified as a potential good match, leading to months of extensive testing and examinations to confirm the possibility of a successful donation.
After months of testing, Gleason was told that he was a match and called Comerford to share the good news.
“I could tell from his voice that it wasn’t bad news,” Comerford said. “I could tell he was excited.”
In late April the pair, accompanied by their families, traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to prepare for the procedure. On April 29 Gleason and Comerford met in person for the first time, and on May 1 they both underwent surgery.
“In hindsight the whole process was remarkably simple,” Gleason said.
Comerford, however, was not as quick to dismiss the seriousness of what Gleason did.
“He went through a lot,” she said. “The donor needs to be as dedicated as the recipient, and it takes a very special person to do this. The gift of what he did, most people wouldn’t consider it. He changed our lives.”
Comerford said the meaning of Gleason’s gift spread far beyond the physical change in her condition.
“More than just the physical gift of what he did, but just to show what people will do for each other, it was very special,” she said.
After the surgery Gleason and Comerford were able to spend their early recovery in the same hospital wing. The pair began walking the hallways together as both of their bodies started to heal.
“It was amazing, he was so strong after the surgery and that helped me through it,” Comerford said.
In the months following the transplant, Gleason’s colleagues back at home began working to recognize him for the selfless act. He was nominated, unknowingly, for the FOP’s Humanitarian of the Year award. When it became clear that he would win the award, Comerford was notified and asked if she would like to attend the ceremony.
Last week Comerford, accompanied by her family, surprised Gleason at the FOP ceremony as he was presented with the award. It was the first time the pair had seen each other since the days following the surgery.
“It absolutely blew me away, it was a complete and total surprise to me,” Gleason said, adding that he would recommend the transplant process to anyone who is able and has considered it. “It’s been a real honor, and a wonderful experience.”
Both Gleason and Comerford have fully recovered from the surgery. Comerford still takes medication to prevent her body from damaging the kidneys, but she no longer needs dialysis treatments.