A Brother’s Gift of Life

Siblings Pennye Goodman and Greg Tettemer joke that they share the same familial nose, matching smiles, a similar rosy outlook on life, and—for the last 14 years—a pair of kidneys.

“The illness came on quickly,” Pennye says. “I began feeling unwell after climbing steps. My heart would beat rapidly and I’d become short of breath. I decided to stop at a local drug store and take my blood pressure. It was quite high.”

Her doctor ordered a blood test, which led to a kidney biopsy—which led to the diagnosis of kidney failure. Pennye, from Dresher, Pennsylvania, was stunned; kidney problems didn’t run in the family, and she had no other risk factors.

The cause of the kidney disease was never determined, but the nephrologist speculated it could have been brought on by something as minor as a virus. Within six months of the onset of the symptoms, Pennye went on dialysis and the kidney transplant list.

“She was not doing well,” Greg recalls. “She needed a transplant, and she needed it right away.”

Family, friends, and fellow congregants from the church and synagogue Pennye and her husband, Phil, attend stepped forward to be tested as potential donors.

“One friend called and said, ‘I’ll give you my kidney, but I should probably ask my wife first,’” Penny says. “Another friend called and said, ‘You can have my kidney, and if I’m not a match then you can have my husband’s.’”

Both of her brothers were tested, and Greg was a perfect match. “The doctor said it was as if we were identical twins born five years apart,” Pennye says.

At the time, Greg’s children were only 5 and 9 years old, and as the family’s breadwinner, he had some concerns. However, being an engineer, he looked at the statistics and determined “the risk was very low and the reward was huge!” With the support and encouragement of his wife, Linda, Greg had preliminary testing completed in California, then he and his family flew east to have the surgery at Jefferson.

Not only was Jefferson highly recommended by people in Pennye’s community, but the Goodman family is also a three-generation Jefferson family. Phil Goodman’s father and brother are both graduates of Jefferson Medical College (now Sidney Kimmel Medical College), and this year, Phil’s nephew, Andrew Goodman, graduated from SKMC.

Unfortunately, the first attempt at surgery was canceled at the last minute due to a “glitch” in a presurgical test. Everyone was devastated; the Tettemer family returned to California discouraged. But a few months later, they were given the green light, and the transplant was back on.

“We heard right away after the surgery that the kidney was working. We knew immediately that the transplant was a success,” Greg says.

After a relatively short recovery period, both Pennye and Greg returned to their busy lives. Neither suffered any ill effects from the surgery; in fact, they both say they bounced back quickly and continue to feel great.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Greg. “If I knew then what I know now I would even donate to a stranger because, well, not very many people get a chance to help somebody like this.”

This past June, Greg and Linda returned to Jefferson for a special tour of the Nicoletti Kidney Transplant Center. That tour included the examination room Pennye and Phil donated to the center and dedicated to Greg in honor of his gift of life to his sister.

“He’s the best brother,” says Pennye, as she wraps her arms around Greg.