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News10NBC Investigates: Man going to prison can’t donate liver first

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: December 17, 2019 07:28 AM
Created: December 16, 2019 06:22 PM

IRONDEQUOIT, N.Y. (WHEC) — He admitted to shooting an acquaintance at local 7-Eleven and agreed to an 11-year prison sentence, but before 33-year-old Ronald Pecora was set to begin that sentence, he planned to donate part of his liver to a local veteran in need.  

The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney all agreed to schedule sentencing for after the surgery, but at the last minute, the hospital told Pecora that he no longer qualifies to donate due to ethical issues.  

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Ronald Pecora admitted that back in July, he shot a man he knew in the stomach at the 7-Eleven on Titus Avenue in Irondequoit.  As part of a plea deal, he’ll be sentenced to 11 years in state prison.

He was supposed to start that sentence in February so that he could first donate part of his liver to Dennis Jones, an Ogden man and fellow veteran with liver cancer.  

The procedure was set to take place at Wilmot Cancer Institute. 

“The surgeons are wonderful, they saved my life three years ago,” Jones recalled.  

He was hoping they’d do it again soon, but last week he and Pecora were notified that Pecora is no longer an eligible donor.

“My client is interested in helping out somebody in need, the prosecution was interested in my client helping someone in need, the judge was... we're saving a life here, theoretically,” Brian DeCarolis, Pecora’s attorney said. “And my understanding is that this was something that this individual was waiting for for some time and it's not as if, because now Mr. Pecora can't donate, there's just another person out there.” 

After going through the screenings, Pecora was told that federal law prohibits “valuable consideration” in the exchange of live organ donations, and URMC believes Pecora’s delayed sentence is a direct consideration.  

DeCarolis disagrees. 

“Any inference or any implication that this was a stall tactic or delay tactic is not accurate… This isn't like donating blood where you have a candy bar after and chill out for 60 minutes, this would be a massive surgical procedure that would leave him very, very, very weak, vulnerable, the recovery is very significant.” DeCarolis said. “His plea agreement calls for 11 years, he was going to get 11 years whether he started that in February, whether he started it in April, whether he starts its now, today. It wasn't going to change anything, there were no escape hatches if you will, like if he did this, 11 was going to turn into six or something like that, that's not the case.”

“It was heart-sickening," Jones said when he heard the news. "It was devastating, that was my one good hope to live. There is no cure for my cancer, they cannot operate, there is no known chemo for it, and they've told me and Slone Kettering in New York City told me… my only chance is to get a live donor.”

In a statement, a spokesman for URMC said: 

“Privacy laws prevent the medical center from providing protected health information about any patient, including potential organ donors or recipients. When any person volunteers to be a living organ donor, their request is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, surgeons, nurses, a living donor advocate, psychiatrists, social workers and medical ethicists. This group considers numerous physical, socio-emotional, and motivational factors to determine if the person is a fit candidate for living organ donation, under guidelines established by professional associations and government regulations.”

Jones is a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran. 

Doctors believe his liver cancer was caused by exposure to agent orange during his time in the service.  

Because of his age, he is not eligible to be put on the waiting list for a cadaver liver. His only chance is to find a living donor. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the URMC’s website, click on “living donor” and leave your contact information.

If selected, a transplant coordinator will contact you to begin the process, and you can specify whether there is a particular patient you want to help, or if you want to make an anonymous donation.


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