Two well-known Greater Pittston men who have given back to the community — one as an Elvis impersonator performing locally and the other as a dedicated Tomato Festival volunteer — are now looking for the community’s help. Both are in declining health and each needs a kidney transplant.
Elvis impersonator Jimmy Tighe, 39, of Exeter, has faced a lifetime struggle, having been born with only one severely damaged kidney.
For Ben Tielle, 52, of Pittston, his medical condition is more recent. A diabetic, his kidney problems were exasperated by a recent heart attack, but that hasn’t stopped him from lending a hand with plans for the upcoming Pittston Tomato Festival, as he has for many years.
Something to be thankful for
It was Thanksgiving 1987 when Jimmy Tighe, then 7, sat down with his parents, Jim and Nancy, and his younger brother, Justin, for the traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings. When they bowed their heads to pray they gave thanks Jimmy was there with them.
He wasn’t supposed to live seven years and he wasn’t supposed to be able to eat solid foods. Tighe was born with one kidney and it worked to only 8% of normal capacity. His doctors told his parents he’d probably only live six months to a year.
Though he was often weak and fatigued and lived on a special liquid diet, he defied the predictions and lived into his seventh year. That August, three months before his first Thanksgiving dinner, Tighe received a kidney transplant from a cadaver.
He lived a fairly normal life after the transplant. He got an associate degree and a decent job and bought a house in Exeter.
When he was 17, his parents took him to see an Elvis tribute act, or ETA. Right there and then he thought he would like to try it. So he studied other ETAs, watched videos, listened to Elvis recordings and practiced.
The practice paid off. He landed gigs at senior centers and private parties. He performed at several Elvis Weeks in Memphis. In 2015, at the Lake George Elvis Tribute Act competition in New York, he finished fifth in the 1970s non-professional category.
Last month after a regularly scheduled gig at the Avenue Diner in Exeter, Tighe felt fatigued. A blood test revealed his kidney, which had cleaned his blood for 32 years, was failing. He now undergoes dialysis 12 hours a week and needs another kidney to survive.
Anyone with an O-positive blood type could be a potential donor.
If you think you might be a potential donor, call Geisinger at 570-271-6214 to schedule a test. Or call Paula, his girlfriend, at 570-430-9466 for information.
In the meantime, Tighe is trying to live a normal life and spend time with his young son. He has two dates scheduled as Elvis, one in August and one in September, both at Avenue Diner. Check out JimmyTasElvis on Facebook for information.
Rallying around a friend
In Pittston, Ben Tielle, 52, also is waiting for a kidney donor. Tielle, a former lawyer and bank manager, is well known around the city as a Tomato Festival volunteer since 2001 and as a quiet gentleman.
He’s not getting dialysis yet, but he will need it soon if he isn’t matched with a donor.
His kidney failure is a complication of open heart surgery after a heart attack and diabetes, which he’s had since he was 20. He said because of the diabetes he was advised to get blood tests for kidney function as he approached 50.
When he got the test three years ago, it showed kidney function below normal for his age, but not so much to need dialysis or a transplant. A few month later, the heart attack hit and his kidney health cascaded downward.
The festival committee is trying to help. Wednesday night at their last meeting before the festival, the committee unveiled new committee T-shirts with the logo “B+ for Ben,” reflecting both his blood type and attitude.
Tielle said his worst symptom is general fatigue. He can’t do much, but he will be at festival headquarters during the festival, if only as an inspiration to the other volunteers.
Tielle lives with his mother, Ruth, 79. He moved in with her to be her caregiver and now the roles are reversed. She’s driving him to appointments and caring for him in other ways.
”She’s been my true rock,” he said.
To learn about kidney donation, call Ben at 570-430-1924 and he will put you in touch with the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital organ transplant team.
Kidney donors live normal, health lives with one kidney.
Most kidney transplant surgeries are done laparoscopically, according to the American Kidney Fund. The operation normally takes two to three hours and a kidney donor usually spends one to three days in the hospital recovering, according to the kidney fund’s website.