Politicians long ago discovered the uses of Facebook. East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon found something else there: a constituent who needed her kidney.
Capone Almon, 35, had more than 1,600 "friends" on Facebook last year when she saw one of them, Carlos Sanchez, post a status update saying his friends and relatives had all been tested and couldn't donate a kidney.
She knew him casually through activities and friends in the New Haven suburb of East Haven, but they weren't so close that she had heard he was ill.
Sanchez, a 44-year-old father whose kidneys were failing because of diabetes, sent out the request on Facebook only hesitantly and on his doctor's suggestion. He worried people might pity him — and certainly hadn't pinned his hopes on finding a donor that way.
He didn't have long to wait. Capone Almon was the first person to respond.
"I sent him a private message and just said, 'Hey, I'll try. I'll get tested,'" Capone Almon said Wednesday. "I really felt from the very beginning that I was going to be a match and a donor. I don't know why, but I just knew it."
‘I thought she was joking’
Sanchez had no such certainty.
"I thought she was joking. The mayor of East Haven would offer me her kidney?" said Sanchez, an office administrator. "She responded back and said, 'I am serious, I am willing to get tested.'
"I wasn't putting too much faith in it," he said. "I didn't want to get my hopes high. But at a point she made me feel so comfortable that I started feeling maybe this was meant to be."
Capone Almon, a Democrat, was running for second term as mayor at the time but kept the details of her medical plans a secret. She won the election as they awaited word on when she could donate the kidney, saying they grew as close as family during the lull.
"I know he voted for me, too," she joked.
The operation was set only after Capone Almon passed a battery of tests and was given a long explanation of the process, which involved three small incisions near her ribcage and a scar similar to that of a cesarean section.
"What the doctors said to me is, 'Your recipient is already sick and we're not going to make you sick to make him somewhat better,'" she said. "They do not compromise the donor's health in any way, shape or form."
Their tenuous connection was cemented into a lasting bond April 8, when doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital removed Capone Almon's left kidney and transplanted it into Sanchez.
They were released from the hospital in less than a week and are expected to make full recoveries. His insurance paid for both their surgeries, and the mayor is back on the job in this middle-class city of about 30,000.
‘There’s nothing special about me’
Capone Almon said that she fields questions almost daily from people asking whether she's worried her one remaining kidney might someday fail, but that she's confident enough in modern medicine and her own health — especially after the numerous tests — that she barely gives it a thought.
"I don't want people to see this as something larger than life," she said. "There's nothing special about me. Anybody can try to do this, and if it's meant to be, you'll be a match and a donor and you can really help someone."
Michael Lawlor, an East Haven attorney and longtime friend of Capone Almon's, said she kept the details of her plans private for a long time, even as he and others quizzed her to ensure she recognized the serious nature of the donation.
"I remember saying, 'Wow, that's really something. I wonder if she's really thought through the fact that it might actually be a match,'" said Lawlor, the area's state representative to the General Assembly.
"Almost everybody says the same thing: I don't know if I would do that if it wasn't a relative ... but she said, 'No problem,'" he said. "When she found out she was a match, she was genuinely happy and truly excited to do it."