CLAYMONT — Archmere Academy has an expansive campus, but at its heart, the size of the student body fosters close bonds among members of the school community. Or, as 1979 graduate Michael Hare puts it, “It’s a tiny place. Everybody knows everybody.”
And last fall, Archmere principal John Jordan found out his former schoolmate needed a kidney transplant. Hare’s mother had called headmaster Michael Marinelli to have her son listed among the school’s prayer intentions.
With his longtime friend on the donor list for the second time in his life, Jordan decided he would offer his own organ. A few factors helped him make the decision.
First, Jordan said during a recent interview at the school, was his conversation with Marinelli. The two meet every week to discuss various things Archmere. Second, Jordan recalled a Dialog article from several years ago that once hung on the bulletin board in his office. It was about a woman who donated a kidney to her husband. Lastly, he recalled the example set by one of his students.
Anthony Penna — an Archmere junior — was removed from life support during the first week of October last year, a few days after he was gravely injured in an automobile accident. (His sister, Gabrielle, was injured but returned to school shortly thereafter.) Jordan was with Anthony’s parents, Melanie and Robert, when he died.
“It was just a moment that was sacred, tragic,” Jordan recalled. “And Mel leans over and was like, ‘Now go help others.’ I think that phrase in that moment, combined with Michael Marinelli’s commentary and my friendship with Mike (Hare), it was like I should try and do that.
“It sounds so much more linear than it was in my head.”
Jordan, who graduated in 1980, and Hare were connected through athletics at Archmere, one as an athlete, the other as a team manager. After college, they both migrated back to the Claymont campus. Jordan, 56, has spent most of his professional career at the school as a teacher, administrator and coach. Hare spent several years as a boys basketball assistant coach, and he would see Jordan nearly every day during the season.
Hare, who turns 57 in November, also has spent time on Archmere’s board of directors and has been involved with the alumni association. He was on the board when Jordan was named principal.
He was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in 1992, when he was just 31 years old. He spent more than seven years on dialysis before receiving his first kidney transplant in 2001. He returned to the transplant list for five years and remained on it for five years when Jordan offered one of his.
His medical team at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia knew he was headed for dialysis again, so they were proactive in getting him on the list. They also encouraged Hare to seek a living donor.
“Frankly, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know if anyone does. I’m going to work every day. I probably didn’t look that healthy, but I was functioning. I was fully functioning. And the chemistry was just kind of deteriorating,” said Hare, a member of St. Elizabeth Parish in Wilmington.
Hare nearly had a new kidney last November, before he heard from Jordan. He rushed to Jefferson in the middle of one night for testing, but that was not successful.
“I go to 6:30 Mass to try to get anointed,” he continued. “My mom was calling every school I ever went to, I’m sure, to get me on their prayer lists. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen that day.”
Jordan called him about two weeks later and made his offer, catching Hare off-guard. The pair met at a local coffee shop to discuss it further. They happen to have the same blood type, which is the first hurdle.
“Mike asked me when we met that weekend, ‘Why? What’s motivating you?’ I don’t know that I articulated that, but his question was obviously key,” Jordan said.
Hare was overwhelmed.
“It was difficult to communicate because it was such an emotional discussion, certainly for me because of how humbling it was. It’s difficult to talk about it now. John mentioned the Pennas. The Penna death had such a profound impact on anybody human, but certainly everybody connected with Archmere.”
Although the two connected in November, the transplant would not happen until this past June. There was medical testing and reams of research. Jordan met with the transplant team at Jefferson to hear about the medical risks, preparations, recovery, drugs, financial cost and testing.
Jordan’s resolve never wavered, Hare said. “He was never anything less than gung-ho.”
At the same time, Hare developed an infection in his ankle and spent some time at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington. Jordan was cleared for the procedure in March, Hare in May. The surgeries were scheduled for June 5, two days after Archmere’s graduation.
Jordan’s daughter was a member of the senior class. Marinelli and some other members of the Archmere staff knew about Jordan’s decision, but the students and other staff did not.
A mom gives back
Melanie Penna knew, and she and her husband visited the men after the procedures.
“It was a powerful moment as we took measure of the role that Anthony played in creating the miracle between them,” she said.
Jordan recovered relatively quickly. He was out of work for the remainder of that week but was back at the school for half-days the next. Hare felt fine, and believed everything had gone well, but there were complications. He knew something was wrong when he started receiving blood transfusions. He was bleeding internally. Another operation was needed to correct that issue.
“Thank God, it worked out,” Hare said.
Hare spent six weeks away from his job as executive vice president of the Buccini/Pollin Group, but his co-workers were there to help.
“Between my assistant coordinating with my colleagues, there was dinner brought to our house every night from the fifth of June to the 20th of July,” he said.
Jordan is now participating in Jefferson Hospital’s “Kidney Champions” program, spreading the word about the need for donations. He will be speaking at an event there in November.
Anthony Penna, meanwhile, lives on through his donations. Three local people were a match, his mother said. A 50-year-old man received his liver. His kidneys were donated, one to a 40-year-old man, the other to a 20-year-old woman. A New Jersey woman in her 20s received one cornea, and an infant boy in Pennsylvania received the other. In addition, Melanie Penna said, her son’s skin, bones and tissues are in 68 transplant centers throughout the United States, ready to help someone else.
“Anthony’s gifts of life mean that generations will come to exist because of his life and his death. We are comforted in knowing that his impact has been so profound and that his death has meaning for so many,” Melanie Penna said.