Justice’s son gives dad new lease on life

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John and Alana Sweeny in their home

CARMEL – Putnam County’s Senior Judge, Senior Associate Justice of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court John Sweeny, has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Sweeny, who will retire from the bench on December 31, was diagnosed with kidney failure earlier this year and last month underwent a kidney transplant that has given him a new lease on life.

The judge recalled how in June his life was turned upside down when he developed severe renal problems. “It soon became obvious that my kidneys had failed and I needed a transplant or else be treated with dialysis for the remainder of my life.”

Judge Sweeny has three sons each of whom advised they would donate one of their kidneys. “No one asked them nor did anyone suggest it to them. My oldest son, 34-year-old James, told me, ‘I’m the oldest. I go first!’ James was a perfect match and on October 17, I was blessed with a new kidney.”

Sweeny called himself a “very lucky man. I have nothing to complain about. The kidney donated by James is functioning beautifully. I must be careful for the next few months about being around crowds since my immune system is low. Other than that, I have no complaints. I have been blessed during this holiday season.”

When asked if he had any anxiety prior to the surgery, Sweeny replied “none about the surgery since it was performed at New York Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan which has a great reputation. My trepidations centered on would I reject the kidney which is the largest problem transplant patients’ experience. Lucky for me, the match was almost perfect and it started functioning the second it was placed into my body. I still am concerned about rejection but so far so good.”

Ironically, the judge who had watched his diet prior to the transplant can now eat whatever he desires.  “Even when on dialysis, I was extremely careful about my diet. Right now, except for salt intake resulting from high blood pressure, I eat whatever I want. The physicians have always advised to limit alcohol. I stopped drinking completely honoring the kidney my son had given me.”

Sweeny’s wife of 37 years, Alana, has been at her husband’s side throughout the ordeal.

Alana said her trepidations centered on post-surgery. “I believed John would be hooked up to all kinds of machines following the seven-hour procedure but when I initially saw John following the surgery, he looked amazingly well. John underwent the transplant on Thursday and he was scheduled to be released the following Monday. As it was his blood count was low so he remained in the hospital for a couple of extra days. When John got of the recovery room late on Thursday night, nurses took him for a walk. The head nurse told me she had never seen anyone walk so far only hours following the complicated surgery. John and I soon became the ‘floor walkers’ waltzing around the hospital corridor several times each day.”

Alana agreed that her family had been blessed this year. “I think of the gift that James gave John. Had we waited for a cadaver kidney, eight years would have passed which would have placed John’s life on hold. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to give a kidney myself because it changes life without a whole lot of negative on the donor’s side. It’s been a phenomenal life changing experience.”

Sweeny’s judicial career has spanned three decades with a variety of assignments that ranged from Family Court, County Court, Surrogate Court, Supreme Court, Appellate Division and the New York State Court of Appeals. He also served as Acting Carmel Town Judge.

In 1987 Sweeny was first elected to the Putnam County Court.

“Putnam has been great for me because it afforded a young man a real opportunity to serve his constituency. Years later in 2004, my fellow Putnam resident then-Governor George Pataki appointed me to the Appellate Division, the first judge in our county’s proud history to be so honored,” he said.

Prior to his ascending to the bench, Judge Sweeny served as Confidential Law Secretary to former Putnam County Supreme Court Justices John Donohoe and Fred Dickinson. He was also the first full-time Assistant District Attorney in the history of the county and the first and only justice from the county to sit on the Court of Appeals which he did by special designation by the Chief Judge last February.

When chatting about his retirement, the judge smiled. “There is one drawback. My court colleagues in New York City as well as the 9th Judicial District want to honor my retirement at a banquet. I can’t attend due to the crowds. That downside I can live with. I guess they can throw me a party sometime next year if they wish.”