Kenny Ponte is a good-natured, soft-spoken man who developed diabetes when he was two years old.

“It was a hard process,” he said of growing up with the illness. “It makes you different from the other kids in terms of what you can eat, the ways you can have reactions. As I got older, the diabetes started getting worse. When I found out about how my kidneys were being damaged, it was another thing to deal with.”

Two years ago, his physician advised him to get on the organ donor list due to the likelihood of kidney failure. At the time Mr. Ponte was 36 years old and, barring his weakened kidneys, he was in good health and a viable candidate for organ transplantation.

“They don’t tell you anything,” he said of the experience. “You have no idea where you are on the list.”

Last year at this time, as his health declined further and the prospect of kidney failure loomed, the Ponte family decided to go public with their struggle.

“Kenny’s not the type to walk around asking people to feel sorry for him,” his wife, Erica, said. “I didn’t think to share our situation beyond our immediate family, but then I realized that he was getting sick, and I asked myself, what kind of wife would I be if I didn’t do something?”

The response from the community was immediate and significant, from material support to emotional encouragement. The Pontes have three children, Hunter (10), Shelby (9), and Jacob (2).

“Once we put it out there, I realized we should have done it sooner,” Erica said. “That’s one of the nice things about living on Martha’s Vineyard; the community really comes together.”

Kenny’s condition continued to decline, though, and in early March he was rushed to Hyannis Hospital to have shunts implanted for dialysis. His weekly routine now would include four-hour dialysis sessions, three times a week.

“His biggest worry was, ‘How am I going to take care of the kids?’” Erica recalled. ‘How am I going to go to Hunter’s hockey games, or Shelby’s figure skating? How am I going to play with the baby? How am I going to be a good father?’”

By mid-March, Kenny was back on the Island and the family was preparing to set up a home dialysis program. On March 25 the family celebrated Hunter’s tenth birthday. As his mother brought out the cake and set it before Hunter, he was told to make a wish. With the cake glowing in front of him, he made one silent request, that Daddy would get better. Then he blew out the candles.

The next day Erica and Hunter were off-Island at a hockey tournament when her cell phone rang. She didn’t recognize the 617 number.

“Generally, if I don’t know the number I don’t pick up, but something told me I should answer it.”

It was a staff member at Mass General Hospital. “How fast can you get here?” the voice on the other end asked. “We have a kidney.”

Erica described the next 24 hours as “like being sucked into a tornado.” She returned to the Island, arranged child care with her in-laws, and rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital with Kenny and little Jacob. “Until they wheeled him in, I don’t think Kenny believed it was going to happen,” she said.

The physicians informed the Pontes that in addition to a new kidney, Kenny would receive a pancreas. This would virtually eliminate his diabetes. The donor match was excellent too, improving the prospects of a successful transplantation.

“Why us?” Erica wondered aloud a year later. “This one donor happened to match Kenny so closely, out of all the names on the list. It seemed like a miracle.”

Kenny made a strong recovery from the surgery and today the Ponte family is enjoying a new reality defined by health rather than illness. “My sugar levels have been really good,” Kenny said. “I still have some kinks the doctors need to work out; I go to Mass. General every three to four months, and the months I’m not there I go to the hospital here to have blood drawn. But all in all, I haven’t had insulin in seven months.”

Kenny admits that the reality of living without diabetes is still sinking in.

“I think sometimes it’s not really hitting me yet because in this last year my mind has been fighting everything I’ve been going through. It took a lot out of me being sick, trying not to let the kids see me going down. It’s a big difference going out the door now. Before, I had to drag my insulin pump and blood machine with me. If I went to Hunter’s hockey game I’d be nervous I’d have a reaction. If I went to the snack bar, my sugars would bounce up high and I’d be in the bathroom checking the sugar levels and adjusting the insulin pump. I’m not doing that anymore.”

The other week he attended an off-Island game with Hunter’s hockey team and enjoyed several slices of pizza on the boat ride home.

One of the statistics of diabetes is that it typically shortens one’s lifespan. When Erica married Kenny she accepted that his life would likely be cut short by the illness. Now, she’s opening her mind to the prospect of the two of them living a full life together. She’s also keenly aware of the importance of organ donation and the need for more people to register as donors.

“One person can save ten lives from being an organ donor. It’s not just organs, it’s tissues and bone as well. My theory is that I’m not going to take my stuff with me, I don’t need it, so if I can save a life, why not do it? People put it out of their mind because they don’t want to think about dying, but it’s an important conversation to have with your family.”

The Pontes are sensitive to the reality that their family’s gain is mirrored by another family’s loss. “How do you say thank you to someone who by one simple decision to donate an organ changed someone’s life forever?” she said. “Kenny appreciates his life every single day and the decision they made.” After Kenny’s recovery Erica sent a letter to the anonymous donor’s family through the New England Organ Bank, but has yet to receive a reply.

For his part, Kenny hopes one day to speak to children suffering from diabetes and share his experience growing up with the illness. “It’s an awful disease to have,” he said. “Kids need to realize that they need to take care of themselves, because as you get older everything starts to happen; your eyesight starts going, your nerves and the circulation in your feet are affected. In my case it was my kidneys. Kids need to be educated about diabetes, that it’s important you tell everyone around you that you’re a diabetic in case something happens.”

As the holiday season approaches, the Pontes are entering a new and joyful chapter as a family.

“When Easter came, it was Daddy’s first Easter without diabetes,” Erica said. “It was the same for Halloween. Now this is his first Christmas without diabetes in 36 years. Each time a holiday comes around it has a new meaning. We’re so happy, and yet we realize there’s a family that’s mourning without their loved one, and we always try to say a special prayer for them.”