GLEN COVE, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island man got the gift of life this Christmas season from his niece.
Doctors informed Tony Jimenez, 69, of Glen Cove, last year that he should begin looking for a living kidney donor. He was in dialysis three days a week.
Jimenez has diabetes, which he attributes to his time in the Vietnam War and his exposure to Agent Orange. He served in Vietnam in 1970 and received a Purple Heart. Jimenez also served as a councilman for the City of Glen Cove for 14 years.
Jimenez's family and friends immediately began searching for a living kidney donor for him.
Jimenez's niece, Julie Jimenez, 31, of Centerport, saw a Facebook post by her father about the situation.
"Right away, I thought, OK, maybe I could donate a kidney. I never thought of it before," Julie Jimenez told Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne.
Julie Jimenez found out she had a matching blood type for her uncle and then approached him about donating her kidney to him.
"That gave me mixed feelings," Tony Jimenez said. "Oh this is great, I have my niece - she's going to donate and then started thinking about it, you know, that's my niece."
Julie insisted due in large part to the fact that her uncle had helped her in her early 20s when she was suffering with addiction.
"My uncle was a huge part in leading me to recovery," she said.
On November 30, Julie and Tony met at North Shore University Hospital for the surgery - only five weeks after Julie first considered donating her kidney.
"We had our first hugs since all of this came about. We took a few pictures together," Julie Jimenez said.
"We met in the lobby and said goodbye to our loved ones and held hands and walked into the unknown," Tony Jimenez said.
The surgery took about four hours.
Julie Jimenez left the hospital three days later and reports she is feeling "fantastic."
"I was back to work after just two weeks off. I just feel stronger each day," she said.
Tony Jimenez said he hasn't felt this healthy in a long time. He no longer has to go to dialysis.
Julie Jimenez said she hopes to spread the word about organ donation and ease the fears surrounding it.
"Now I have the awareness of what it is like to donate and I can really hopefully inform or encourage other people to do it," she said.
Tony Jimenez said his niece is a perfect model for organ donation.
"People can say, 'Look at her, she looks fantastic and she did this' and that's what I'm hoping this creates," he said.
Click here to learn more about organ donation in New York.
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