WESTERLY — Longtime Westerly High School music teacher Dave DeAngelis’ name had been on the kidney donor transplant list for two years when he heard about the death of Mark Dennis — the father of a former student — in the spring of 2013. Saddened by that news, he would be stunned when, early the next morning, a call came from Rhode Island Hospital.
“They had a kidney for me. For me, the doctor said. Designated for me. I wept and sobbed and I knew. I just knew. We all cried. My wife, my kids,” said DeAngelis, who retired just last week after a 33 year career in music education. “We had to hurry to the hospital and I kept telling everyone there, the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, that I knew where the kidney came from. But of course they couldn’t say anything. They weren’t allowed to. But the next day, after the transplant, my doctor said the family wanted me to know. I cried and cried.”
The three Dennis children, all former music students of DeAngelis at Westerly High School, told him there was “no better way to thank” him for his profound impact on their lives.
“Can you imagine? I was so deeply moved and I swear, that night, I felt his spirit looking over me and saying, ‘It’s going to be all right.’ And it was. The kidney was a healthy one and a perfect match,” DeAngelis said.
And for months, DeAngelis fared well with the kidney. But then a serious complication from an arduous and unsuccessful angioplasty left the kidney weakened and compromised. After more than a week of hospitalization, and feeling pressure from work and the constant anxiety and fear that comes with kidney disease, DeAngelis has once again found himself in need of a kidney. And it could again take years; he had to go to the bottom of the transplant list. Should his condition worsen, it’s back to dialysis.
“Dialysis means I can keep living, but it’s a hard way to live,” he said. Three-plus hour treatments three or four times a week with plenty of pain, serious dietary restrictions, laborious medical monitoring and the ever present fear.
“Sometimes it’s so sad. Some days it’s so depressing watching the elderly, the disabled being brought in on stretchers, many crying in pain with those needles. Watching all your blood be removed and cleaned by an artificial kidney, doing the work my kidney cannot do. I’m grateful I can have it, but I pray that a kidney comes for me,” he said. “Soon.”
DeAngelis said there have been people willing to donate but for one reason or another, it’s never worked out. Even students over the years have offered: “Yes, three or four, maybe more even, of my music students have said they wish they could give me a kidney. I would get so emotional when I heard that. And quite obviously that was impossible, but really, such love coming from kids.”
Former student Jennifer Christina Holden described DeAngelis as a mentor who has “given and given.”
“And he always did that completely unselfishly to his students, his family and his community. He’s changed lives,” she said. “His karma is good and he deserves good things to happen to him.”
Holden said that by the time she’d started high school, she’d been playing piano for nearly a decade but “wasn’t sold on it” as a career path.
“He saw the talent in me. In my sophomore year we went to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway on a school field trip. We sat together in the nosebleed seats. I was so moved ... The music. It changed everything. He helped us explore music and his passion about it, his love of music trickled down to his students. I ended up going to URI and the Boston Conservatory. He gave me and so many others that. He fostered the love of music,” Holden said.
DeAngelis has staged more than 20 shows — his favorites include “The Wizard of Oz” and “Les Miserables” — numerous cabaret musical revues, dinner theater, and many Christmas carol musicals. He said that a major highlight was when his chorus sang at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, and that one of the best parts of his work has been the opportunity to “teach a second generation of students.”
Just last week DeAngelis shared the news about his need for a new kidney on Facebook. Within minutes of the posting, more than 60 people shared his story and dozens of others declared their love and support. Current and former students, colleagues, fellow educators, family and friends offered up prayers of support and encouragement.
“I feel blessed,” he said of the outpouring from so many. And said he hopes his story will move people to become organ donors.
“I’m not saying that just for me but I’ve been saying that for years. It’s a good thing to do and it’s as simple as checking the box on your license,” he said, referring to the driver’s license application.
Holden said she remains inspired by DeAngelis to this day, especially given the knowledge that he’s been ill for some years now and nonetheless went to work, teaching and staging performances.
“He did so much, it’s amazing. If that doesn’t tell you who he is I don’t know what does,” she said. If anyone deserves the donation of a life saving organ, she said, he does.
For more information about organ donation contact the Rhode Island Hospital Division of Organ Transplantation at http://tinyurl.com/oc2ove7 or call 401-444-8562.
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