Though neither celebrates a birthday on Feb. 29, the day holds special significance for Warwick residents Kelly Cronin, 41, and her father Dennis Cronin, 66.
That's because the pair celebrates it as the anniversary that Dennis got a new lease on life.
A Type 2 diabetic since the age of 30, Dennis injured the bottom of his foot about 14 years ago and it became infected.
In order to save his foot, doctors prescribed a particularly strong antibiotic to kill the bacteria.
“It’s got a double crossbones on it,” Dennis said. “So it killed the bacteria, but it also killed my kidney.”
He eventually found himself on dialysis and in need of a kidney transplant.
“When you’re on dialysis, you’re waiting for a cadaver (organ) or some donation to come around,” Dennis said. “I was there for over a year. You go three times a week, three hours each time.”
Walking into a dialysis center, Dennis said, the first thing you see are the recliners. Sitting in them, you lose a sense of who you are.
“You kind of lose your name when you’re in those centers,” he said. “They called me recliner nine.”
With type O positive blood, Dennis was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, hoping for a miracle.
“I figured, pray hard,” he said, “and my turn will come.”
What happened was an intervention by his three children.
A sales rep for the urology division of Boston Scientific Prosthetic, Kelly said she and her siblings were initially met with quite a bit of resistance.
“Of course he said no because he’s a Taurus and he’s stubborn,” she said. “But, by the same token, so am I because I was born six days before him.”
What ensued was a battle of wills, Kelly said.
“He wouldn’t say yes,” she said, “and I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Ultimately he came around, and Kelly said that she was able to donate one of her kidneys to him.
Before the donation could take place, Kelly said she had to undergo a battery of tests to make sure she qualified as a donor, including a psychological evaluation.
“They were going through their questions and they were like, ‘Are you looking to be the favorite child by doing this?’” she said. “I’m a middle child so yes! I would be lying if I said no.”
“She just gets a bigger card at Valentine’s Day,” Dennis said, smiling.
The surgery took seven hours to complete and happened Feb. 29, 2008.
“We thought it would be either really good luck or really bad luck,” Kelly said of the Leap Day timing. “Because the thing in our family is, it has to be the Cronin luck and, usually, that means the opposite.”
The Cronin luck this time around turned out to be really good luck, as both Dennis and Kelly did well during the procedure and have continued to do well in the time since.
“To use one of your children as a donor, just freaks you out,” Dennis said. “Even to this day I think about her all the time because I don’t want anything to happen to her.”
Walking into the operating room together, father and daughter were a comical sight.
“We had our gowns on and these horrific coonskin hats, but the tails were battery-operated so they were moving,” Kelly said. “It looked like there was a dead raccoon on my head.”
A history enthusiast, Dennis was studying Davy Crockett at the time and his children would teasingly call him ‘Crockett’ as an inside, family joke.
The joke wound up playing well to a larger audience, despite the lack of context.
“We had quite an audience looking at these (hats),” Dennis said. “I think the only ones who got it was us, but they laughed anyway.”
After he received her kidney, Kelly said it was amazing the way Dennis perked right up. The change was remarkable.
“I’m like damn he looks good!” she said. “They have this grayish color when they’re on dialysis and he literally looked flushed, like he was just skipping down the street.”
The vigil at the hospital the day of the surgery brought the various branches of their family closer together, Kelly said.
“Our family was not connected or blended entirely at that point, so it was kind of interesting,” she said. “But after that, it’s just such a blended family.”
To this day, both Dennis and Kelly will hear from people looking for information on how the donation process works.
“It’s interesting how many people call and say, ‘This person is thinking about donating (or) needs a kidney, what are your thoughts?’” Kelly said. “It’s so nice to see just a little bit of that awareness – the happy and celebrating the good that comes from it.”
Although they celebrate their successful transplant every Leap Day, this year the Cronins plan to mark the occasion by going big.
“We’re going steak this year!” Kelly said. “There’s no lines anymore, because everybody’s plant-based, so you can get into a steakhouse pretty easily now.”
Dennis is okay with wherever she wants to go. “I’m very blessed."