A kidney is a hard gift to top, but Jennifer Wolfe wanted to try this year.
Wolfe, who lives in Georgia, traveled to Long Island to surprise Albert Gabay, the recipient of her kidney, and his family for the holidays.
The reunion on Friday, coordinated by staff at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, was her way of brightening the Gabay family’s holiday and thanking them for her new home.
Albert Gabay’s son Brian won a home for Wolfe on a reality show that aired earlier this year to repay her for her lifesaving donation.
Albert Gabay, 62, of Merrick, his wife Lucy, 66, and Brian, 28, arrived at the hospital Friday — where Gabay had his transplant in 2015 — expecting to have a Skype conversation with Wolfe, 42, to exchange holiday wishes. Instead, hospital employees faked technical difficulties, arranging for Wolfe to visit and make a grand entrance into the room.
“You’re supposed to be on the screen right now,” Brian Gabay said as his mother tearfully embraced Wolfe. “I’m in shock.”
Four years ago, Albert Gabay was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure, the family said. His son and three daughters began to search for a donor.
“When something like that happens, you get lost, you feel trapped,” Brian Gabay, of Manhattan, said. “There’s no way to escape this nightmare of seeing your father sick.”
The Gabay family calls Wolfe their “angel.” Wolfe said she was just trying to be a good role model for her three children when she found the Gabay family’s plea for a Type O kidney donor on matchingdonors.com.
“I started doing random acts of kindness to teach my children to think beyond themselves,” she said.
Doctors determined Wolfe was a match, and two months later, on June 3, 2015, she donated her kidney to Albert Gabay, a gift that drew both families closer. They text daily and Wolfe hopes to visit once a year.
“She saved my life, and I will never, never forget that, she’s like my daughter,” Albert Gabay said Friday before singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to Wolfe.
Since the transplant, the Gabays wanted to repay Wolfe for saving Albert’s life. Brian Gabay was offered the chance to compete on the second season of the Fox reality show “Home Free,” whose contestants win homes for their heroes.
“Jennifer is my hero,” Brian Gabay said. “She’s never owned a home and she deserves everything.”
Wolfe, her husband and three children moved into the home that Brian won them in September. Wolfe said she and her husband had always rented, and never thought they could afford to buy a home.
“It was my dream to have a home and establish roots,” she said. “It was a dream I didn’t see myself being able to afford.”
Both Wolfe and the Gabays said they were grateful to hospital officials for organizing the reunion, and planned to spend part of the holidays together.
“We’re not family by blood but we are by heart,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes that means more.”