Firefighter gives gift of life for Christmas
Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue Captain Suzanne Sweetman donated her kidney to Louis Flaim after meeting him only 10 months ago at church
By Brian Ballou
MIAMI — It was a different kind of lifesaving technique that Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue captain Suzanne Sweetman utilized to save Louis Flaim.
She gave him a kidney on Thursday, and the season of giving has taken on a new meaning for both donor and recipient.
I don't think I could live with myself watching someone die slowly knowing I could help," said Sweetman, 44, who works out of Deerfield Beach but lives in Labelle, in Hendry County, a two-hour commute.
She and Flaim met only about ten months ago at the Eastside Baptist Church in Labelle, on their way out after Sunday service. Weeks later at church, she found out he needed a kidney.
Sweetman and her twin sister Andrea Hahn didn't hesitate to offer theirs. Their blood type matched Flaim's, but with testing being so expensive, a cost that the recipient has to cover, only Hahn went through the barrage of tests.
But an X-ray that was part of that testing revealed an abnormality. To rule out any potential complications, doctors wanted to do more tests, which would've delayed the transplant by months.
"That was about six weeks ago and Louis didn't have six weeks," said Sweetman, who is 44. "It had to happen right away, so I went through testing and was cleared.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," she said. "All along I was hoping something wouldn't keep us from making it happen, and then I got word two weeks ago it was a go."
Even after she came out of five hours in surgery, and felt intense pain in the recovery room at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, when her sister asked if her if she regretted it, Sweetman told her "absolutely not."
The early diagnosis is a good one.
"The kidney is working 100 percent already and they don't even have the medication figured out yet," Flaim said in a telephone interview Sunday morning from his hospital room.
Flaim lives in Lehigh Acres in Lee County, but Sweetman found a place for him to stay over the next month that is close to the hospital -- a friend's house. That's where Flaim will spend Christmas.
"I'm blown away, beside myself," Flaim said. "The only thing I can express is that I love her for what she's done, she has changed my life forever."
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