Saving lives has been part of Kevin Theriault’s job for the last 22 years at the Willimantic Fire Department.
“I meet them on the worst day of their life,” Theriault said. “Whether it’s on an ambulance call, a car accident, or a house fire.”
So perhaps it’s no wonder that on Theriault’s own worst day, it was a fellow firefighter who saved his life. It wasn't just any firefighter, but his close friend and partner on the job for nearly 20 years, Peter Bruscato.
In February 2016, Theriault got sick with what he thought was a sinus infection. After several doctor appointments, he assumed it was a stubborn case of the flu that lasted for months.
On September 10, 2016, Theriault was rushed to the emergency room in kidney failure.
Tests revealed he had Wegner’s Granulomatosis, a rare autoimmune disease. Suddenly, his job and his life were both on the line.
“They didn’t tell me but they told my wife 'if he can make the next two days we’ll be okay,'” Theriault said.”But at that point, they weren’t sure I was going to make it to Monday morning.”
When it became clear Kevin needed a kidney transplant, he didn’t even have to ask. Without hesitating, his fellow Willimantic firefighters volunteered to get tested as living organ donors. The hospital warned Theriault the chances of finding a match were slim.
Days later, Theriault got a phone call that defied the odds.
“I started crying in the living room because he called me and says tag, I’m it.”
Bruscato was a perfect match.
The transplant surgery in September 2017 was a success. And as the two firefighters recovered, Theriault’s fellow Willimantic firefighters stepped up to help once again, donating their own sick days to help Theriault get through the last few months.
Theriault returned to work Tuesday after being out for more than a year. Bruscato was out for about three months and came back to work a few weeks ago.
The bond between the two didn't stop with the kidney transplant.
As Theriault learned, Wegner’s Granulomatosis is rare, affecting only 1 in 300,000 people. But Bruscato already knew those odds – his own wife survived the same disease and has been in remission for 15 years.
“Some call it luck, some call it fate, some call it somebody watching over us,” Bruscato said. “Maybe it’s because what we do, I don’t know.”
One thing Theriault knows for sure is how very grateful he is.
“I mean he was my best friend before, but now what you do? How do you say thank you to a guy?”
Kevin Theriault and Peter Bruscato want to get the word out about the importance of organ donation, particularly living organ donation.
Theriault said if he had to wait for a deceased donor, doctors told him it could have been waiting at least five to seven years. A living donor was his best chance at survival.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are 116,000 men, women and children currently waiting on the organ donation list, and 20 people die each day awaiting a transplant.
To learn more about how to become a living organ donor, click here or talk to your health care provider.