Essex Tech Masonry Teacher Collins Receives Gift of Life From His Boss

Essex Tech Superintendent Heidi Riccio, left, and masonry instructor David Collins. (Courtesy photograph.)

Sometimes, bosses get a bad rap, but a masonry teacher at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School received the gift of life from his.

After more than 20 years of battling kidney disease, Essex Tech masonry teacher David Collins of Haverhill learned last year that his life depended on finding a donor. Last month, Collins learned of an ideal kidney match from an unexpected source, his boss, Superintendent Heidi Riccio.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Collins underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and received one of Riccio’s kidneys.

Collins was diagnosed about 20 years ago with IgA nephropathy, a degenerative condition that can be somewhat slowed with medications. Once drugs were no longer effective, Collins underwent dialysis in North Andover three times a week at three and a half hours per visit. He scheduled appointments before and after school to miss as few days as possible, hoping to blunt any impact on his masonry students.

“I was planning on taking the year off, but my kids were suffering,” he said.

Collins’ wife Stephanie and daughter Shelby, who has served as Riccio’s executive assistant for two years, researched transplant options.

Collins has taught at Essex Tech and its predecessor, North Shore Tech, since 2000. Riccio arrived in 2017 and the two worked together on a grant-funded program for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, which supports Collins in teaching hardscaping skills to pre-release inmates in Lawrence.

“He always helps the underdog, the one who needs a bit more support,” Riccio said.

A kidney transplant requires donor and recipient to be a perfect match across six antigens involving blood and tissue type and antibody compatibility. Testing found many near-matches for Collins, including Essex Tech co-workers, but none was perfect until Riccio.

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