Pediatric kidney transplant a first for Cohen Children’s

Starks gets an assist: Knicks legend John Starks (left) has a ball with kidney-transplant recipient Matthew Francis and his mom, Jennifer.

The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center has completed its first-ever pediatric kidney transplant operation.

Matthew Francis, a 14-year-old from Rockaway Beach, was diagnosed in 2012 with focal segmental glomerulosis, a disease that attacks the kidney’s filtering units. The illness causes severe scarring, disrupts kidney functions and, left untreated, can eventually lead to organ failure.

Earlier this month, Matthew underwent a life-saving procedure at New Hyde Park-based Cohen’s Children – making him the first pediatric kidney-transplant recipient at the 202-bed Northwell Health facility dedicated exclusively to the care of children, which opened in 1983.

Pamela Singer, director of the hospital’s new Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program, said Matthew’s pre-surgical risks were high.

“His high blood pressure was being treated with medication until this year, when we realized that he needed to be placed on dialysis,” the doctor said in a statement.

But the April 4 surgery went well, Singer added, and Matthew – who received an inspiring get-well visit this week from legendary New York Knicks shooting guard John Starks – should be back to playing basketball with his friends soon.

Although not considered hereditary, focal segmental glomerulosis also afflicts Matthew’s mother, Jennifer Francis, who is on a waiting list and hopes to receive a new kidney soon. The mom undergoes dialysis – an invasive process for removing waste and excess water from the blood, used primarily as an artificial replacement for lost kidney function – three days a week, and said she was devastated and afraid when her son faced the same prognosis.

“I’m on dialysis three days a week since January of this year, Matthew was doing it on the other three days,” Francis noted. “The only day we had together as a family with my husband was on Sunday… the only day we didn’t have to deal with dialysis.”

Pamela Singer: Why doctors become doctors.

While the mom is still waiting for her transplant, her son is already on the road to recovery – a journey sped up somewhat by Starks, who met the teen at a press conference Wednesday to offer an autographed basketball and plenty of encouragement.

“Training for a sport is a lot like what Matthew had to overcome in the hospital, which is why he did such a great job,” Starks said in a statement. “He’s going to be fine. He knows what he wants and he’s working on getting better.”

Cohen Children’s staffers were sure to thank the deceased donor whose generosity brightened Matthew’s future, with Ernesto Molmenti, surgical director of the hospital’s pediatric transplant center, noting during Wednesday’s press event that “Matthew’s donor is smiling down from heaven on what we’re saying here today.”

What they were seeing, thanks to the nascent Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program, was a young man with a hopefully long life in front of him.

“It’s wonderful seeing him here today, looking so healthy and eager to get back to his life,” Singer noted. “It’s the reason we choose to become physicians.”