Nocille was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease seven years ago and will receive a transplant this spring.
More than 450 friends, family and community members visited the Washington Township Senior Citizens Center for a fundraiser benefiting Robert “Boots” Nocille, 44, who is living with stage four polycystic kidney disease, diabetes and a heart condition. Deanna Ensign, whose daughter was coached by Nocille in soccer, will be donating her kidney to Nocille this spring.
Nocille, who has a wife, Nicole, and two daughters, Mia, 11, and Nina, 8, was hospitalized recently after a major health setback, causing him to need dialysis three times a week. Unable to work, the Nocille family’s income was cut in half.
Anthony and Suzanne Grosso and Tara Bauersfeld organized the benefit, held on Feb. 10.
Both originally from South Philadelphia, Anthony and Nocille have known each other since they were born. Anthony moved to Washington Township 17 years ago, Nocille following seven years later. The two live in the same development.
“His father lived next to my father in South Philly,” Anthony said. “He’s like my brother.”
Funds were raised through ticket sales, a 50/50 raffle and more than 100 donated baskets from friends and family to raffle in a Chinese auction. T-shirts with the saying, “Boots’ Brigade: Thank you for your support…Let’s win the fight” were sold at the door.
“I was expecting over 300 people. I wasn’t expecting to raise that much money; everybody came out and donated, plus there were a lot of donations from people who didn’t show up,” Anthony said.
According to Anthony, the community started a food train, where people cook for the Nocille family and bring the food by their house three to four times a week.
Nocille said the disease, which generates cyst clusters on an individual’s kidneys, is genetic. He was diagnosed seven years ago, and is the fifth generation in his family to have it.
“I actually found out in 2003. I had a triple bypass surgery, and when blood work came back, they said they found something on my kidneys, but it was never checked out. I knew as soon as I was diagnosed that I would need a kidney transplant,” Nocille said.
About a year ago, Nocille began looking for a kidney donor. In September, he and his wife received a call from Ensign.
Ensign, a sixth-grade teacher at Burlington Township Middle School, met the Nocille family during her daughter’s soccer season in fall 2015, as he was one of her coaches at the time. When the news came out that he was looking for a kidney donor, Ensign said she was shocked.
“My mom passed away in January of 2016, and at that point, I hadn’t even known he was sick. I was shocked. My mom had lung disease, and she would never have qualified for a transplant, so when the word transplant was said, and I found out he was sick and needed one, I thought you know what,” Ensign said. “I wasn’t sure about doing it at first, but I thought about it for a while, got some input and decided to get tested.”
Ensign’s mother inspired her to help Nocille since she didn’t get the opportunity he has; it is her way of honoring her mother and giving back. She also wanted to do it for his daughters, whom she said “shouldn’t have to see their dad sick anymore.”
Ensign started the testing process last spring. On day one, she said, she had to sit through a class about living kidney donations that informed donors about the stages, the care of the transplant, the screening process and the expectations. Then, she moved on to the initial screening with an online application.
“I went online to fill out the application, and I realized I didn’t even know his first name, I just knew him as ‘Boots,’” Ensign said. “Then, I realized I needed his birthday.”
Ensign sent a text for the information, sparking curiosity from his wife, Nicole, who wasn’t aware that Ensign was planning to test as a donor. When Ensign told them she was applying, she said they were “beyond flabbergasted.”
“I was shocked; shocked it was somebody that I’ve only known for a year and a half,” Nocille said.
The rest of the test involved blood work, 24-hour urine samples, meetings and interviews with hospital personnel and specialists, chest x-rays and CT scans. It was determined Ensign was a match and would be giving Nocille her left kidney.
“It was in December, and I was at work when I found out that I was the one,” Ensign said. “I was extremely excited. I texted Nicole right away and said ‘oh my god are you sitting down.’ She was very emotional; you want to shout it out, but you don’t want to jinx anything.”
It was two or three days later, Ensign said, that Nocille was brought to the hospital and his health declined.
Nocille and Ensign’s surgery is scheduled for April 6 at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. According to Nocille, once the transplant takes place, doctors have told him he should be out of the hospital within three to five days, and will have about four to six weeks of recovery. Ensign said she has the same expected recovery time.
“I’m super excited,” Ensign said. “I’m not nervous in the slightest. There is that fear of it not being accepted, but I’m looking past that.”
Nocille said due to a port that comes out of his chest, he is not able to pick anything up or play with his kids. Prior to the decline in health, Nocille was a forklift operator.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to work and being myself,” Nocille said. “It’s incredible; I can finally get back to normal.”