On Saturday, April 6th 2013, Pam and I traveled to New York City’s famous St. Patrick’s cathedral to speak at TRIO Manhattan’s 18th annual “Remember and Rejoice” st-patricks-cathedraldonor recognition celebration.  Pam read “The Parable of The Good Samaritan” and later she and I gave a welcome greeting on behalf of TRIO’s national board and shared testimony of our heart transplant success and donor family life experiences.

While over the years we have shared with audiences from coast to coast (San Francisco CA to Orlando Fl to St. Louis MO), speaking to over 2,000 in this beautiful NYC landmark was a new adventure, never dreamed of before this invitation.  Pam was so calm and powerful in her reading, her words resounding loud and clear throughout the huge towering church.  To that overflowing (actually some had to be turned away due to lack of room, the five-year renovation program taking away some of the usual 2,200 seating area – see photo below of the audience and scaffolding . . .) gathering of donor families and recipients, I offered in opening:

“As president of Transplant Recipients International Organization, and on behalf of our national TRIO board, it is my honor to be here to offer our condolences on the loss of your loved one.  At the same time, I extend to you our sincere thanks for honoring their decision to be an organ donor, or if that decision was not known, for making that decision on their behalf in passing on the gift of life that makes this day possible.  We remember your loved one, each a hero in our lives, as we rejoice in this gift of life extended.  Please know that they are in our hearts and prayers not only today, but every day.”

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Then the story of heart donation and transplant continued:

“I am with you today because of a family’s decision nineteen years ago here in New York, Brooklyn to be exact.  In October of 1994, Roberto Cuebas was celebrating his 38th birthday and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Attacked on the street, beaten about the head with a baseball bat, after 8 days in a coma, his brain stopped.  In those days before state donor registries, his brother, Gilberto, lead their brothers and sisters in making the decision to donate Roberto’s gifts.  

“This was before the heart pumps available today.  On Thursday, October 18th. with literally days left from a heart damaged by an unknown virus, I went to sleep with my usual prayer, the Our Father, with my emphasis on the words of that prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’  

“The next morning, October 19th, I can still hear that 6am phone call from Heather, my transplant coordinator, when she said, ‘Mr. Gleason, I think we have a heart for you.’  I replied, ‘Thank you,’ looked up and prayed, ‘Thank you!’ then called my family to say ‘You had better get down here, something’s going to happen today.’  

“That gift of Roberto’s  heart saved this life of a young father of three in Philadelphia, Friday, October 19th, 1994. 

“As one of very few who ever meet their donor family, at a national donor recognition ceremony in Florida I asked Gil why he had made that decision.  He replied simply, “My brother was a giving person and I worked in a hospital and saw the need.  What was I going to do, just bury his organs in the ground?

“Instead of dying, in three months with a new heart I returned to work for another 12 years, retiring in 2005.”

Pam continued with the story of her son, Christopher’s accident and donation of both kidneys and his liver to save initially three lives, but in so doing, many others too.  (I don’t have Pam’s permission to insert her sharing here, so that part will be left to your imagination)   Just let me say, she “nailed it” in giving a very beautiful testimony, recognizing in a very emotional way a connection with every donor family in this huge audience.

My special thanks to Fran Dillon, TRIO Manhattan’s president, for allowing us this amazing opportunity.  The event was so well done in every way, and I don’t have words to describe it that would that would do it justice, so will just leave with the words I concluded with there, “From deep in my (our) heart(s), thank you!”

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