Attending the UNOS board meeting this week in Richmond VA, I found myself sitting at the reception chatting with a young lady and new board member with her name tag proclaiming “Trine…” In excitingly sharing a recent experience of participating in a liver transplant for her first time, even describing that excitement with her bantering with the transplant team there, “Let’s do more of these!” – you can only imagine!

As we chatted, suddenly I realized I knew her! While I had never met her before in person, in fact I have used her amazing story in my slide deck for speaking about organ donation, titled “Why We Do This” hundreds of times as an example of the success of transplantation, especially when a pediatric organ transplant can be the foundation of a life story that can be captured into their adult lives. Trine was the first child liver recipient in Florida back in the 1980’s, still the very pioneering days of liver transplants.

Trina at age 2, a sickly child, later transplanted with a liver at age 8

Trine at age 2, a sickly child, later transplanted with a liver at age 8









As a young adult, she entered medical school to become a transplant surgeon, leading to this encounter described above.

August, 2009, and Trine Engebretsen, 26 years later, is part of FIU's inaugural medical school class. "Always have faith and hope. It's not too late, until you're no longer alive, so hang in there. Good things will happen," she said. PS: Trine met her husband while helping him through the process of getting his own liver transplant

August, 2009, and Trine Engebretsen, 26 years later, is part of FIU’s inaugural medical school class.
“Always have faith and hope. It’s not too late, until you’re no longer alive, so hang in there. Good things will happen,” she said.
PS: Trine met her husband while helping him through the process of getting his own liver transplant













Trine at the operating table in 2016!

Trine at the operating table in 2016!



Trine, first both transplant couple to give birth (husband is a liver recipient too)

Trine, first both transplant couple to give birth (husband is a liver recipient too)










and in conversation at this UNOS event with me we took this ‘selfie’ together:

Trine and me 2016 at the June UNOS board meeting where she is now an incoming board member

Trine and me 2016 at the June UNOS board meeting where she is now an incoming board member




“Human beans”
by Bob Perks

Patience is a virtue. One of the many I lack. Never more evident than when I am grocery shopping.

Some days the only time I get out of the house is when I force myself to head to the market to buy what I need for dinner. Oftentimes I go there with absolutely nothing in mind and find myself inspired by the aromas of fresh-baked bread or slow-roasted chicken. I enjoy the experience, except for the crowded vegetable section of the store. This is where most people slow down so they can inspect, fondle, smell, and squeeze until they have discovered that one grapefruit, that special cantaloupe that everyone else missed.

I can be seen, plastic bag in hand, waiting, moaning, and huffing as I finally slump over my cart in frustration. In just a few seconds I’m in and out, green pepper in hand and on my way to the scale to slap that sticker on it. No big deal for me.

Except for yesterday.

I decided to pick up some string beans. Of all the sections in the vegetable market, the string bean people move the slowest. One bean at a time. “Oh, Lord give me patience!” I said to myself as I approached the counter.

There, blocking access with his cart, was an elderly man. His messy white hair, flipped up in the back, made him look like a 80-year-old hippie. He was average height and looked much like a string bean himself. Thin and frail-looking, he moved slowly and his hands seemed to tremble as he searched through the pile of beans.

Without turning his head toward me, he said, “It takes time to find the right ones. There’s an art to this, you know.”

“I didn’t realize that,” I said. “Although that explains why everyone spends so much time here. They’re artists.”

“I see them as people,” he replied.

“The beans?” I asked.

“Yes.” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“See this one? This short, stubby one would tend to get passed over. Its appearance doesn’t fit the perfect image of a long, thin, crisp bean. Most likely, after too much handling, the clerk will toss it out thinking no one wants it. So I take it. People don’t know what they are missing, passing up this one,” he continued.

“Now I know this curved one won’t be used either. Some people see food as more than nourishment. It’s all in the presentation. The image of a few select beans, all of the same length, lying on a plate nestled perfectly next to the entrée, supposedly adds to the enjoyment of the meal. I for one see my food as representing life itself. The world is full of texture, odd shapes and sizes. My world is not perfect. Nor is my dinner plate,” he said.

Suddenly I realized that we were the only ones in this aisle. Very unusual for this time of day. I was calm and very attentive to everything this man was saying.

Also unusual.

“Yes, this pile of beans reminds me that people come into my life in all sizes. Some are broken like this one. Others are still attached to the vine where they were nourished and protected and oftentimes were ripped away from their roots, carrying with them resentment and fear. Like this bean, the vine needs to be removed so that it can be seen in its full beauty and not one clinging to things of the past,” he said as he tossed them in his bag.

A few minutes had passed as I stood in silence just watching the old man as he dug deep into the pile, turning and tossing them from the bottom as one would stir a salad.

“Well, I must go now,” the man said. “I’ll leave you with these ‘human beans.’ Be kind to them. Don’t judge them just by looks. Inside everyone of them is the same life-giving elements. But like people, many will never be given the chance.” he said.
“So they end up on the bottom, tossed aside?” I asked.

“The difference is,” he replied, “as people we have a choice not to settle for the garbage heap.”

He tied the top of the plastic bag and turned away, missing the cart completely as he tried to place it inside.

“Sir, let me get that for you,” I said.

“Every once in a while I misjudge the distance. I’ve been blind all of my life. You’d think I’d have this worked out by now.”

Blind? I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly a young lady appeared from around the corner.

“Poppa! I’m over here, straight ahead of you. Would you like me to pick out some nice tomatoes?”

“No, honey. I know just what I need,” he said.

Turning back toward where I was standing, he whispered, “She’s always in such a hurry. She’ll miss the best ones. Have a great day!”

What insight. What vision this old man had. A blind man helped me to see what joy I had been missing in the simple act of shopping for vegetables. I wonder what else I have been blind to in the hurry of my day.

By the way, tonight I’m having brussel sprouts. I can’t wait to get back to the market.

Bob Perks

Check out more of Bob’s wonderful reflections at:

Or, how about me sharing one of Bob’s writings at our church’s 200th anniversary party:

Way back when I was ‘just a kid’ living in Metuchen NJ in the mid-fifties, my life time best friend Ray shared our tropical fish hobby as only two teen boys can. One day Ray’s really neat mom, Marie, decided she wanted to decorate their living room with a fish tank very different that what we were doing or even could afford to do. She wanted a long rectangular tank with black sand and black background filled with the vey colorful fish, truly a neon colored small fish, the neon tetra.

neon <- Neon tetra

Now Ray and I when we could afford to buy fish at our local small town haunt, Tropical Pet Land, it was one or two fish at a time. Marie bought, as I recall in my memory of that amazing venture, what must have been maybe 100 (ok, maybe only 50?) beautiful Neon tetras (or maybe the more colorful Cardinal tetra?) for that long Betta tank for over their mantle place. What an extravagance! I’m sure she must have had our friend, Bruce, the shop owner, place a special order for that large a quantify of those radiant fish. I can never forget that scene and the impression it made on my young hobbyist mind.
Move ahead more than half a century and Ray and I still go fishing, driving from fish store to store, looking for a bargain and often offering to buy a whole school of maybe a dozen of some fish for his 22+ tanks, or my 3 large tanks, to get a good price. Nowadays that means getting fish down to maybe few dollars each, which in retirement now, we can afford and enjoy.

cardinals <- Cardinal tetras
Still fascinated with the Neon and even more colorful Cardinal tetra fish, I regularly keep a half dozen in one of my tanks for pure pleasure. Recently I decided to grow that school to a more colorful 20 or so fish.

Calling Ray to share that memory of his mom’s adventure so long ago, Ray corrected my memory. It wasn’t that long a tank, maybe only 20 inches in length. The ‘huge school’ of Neons (not Cardinals) was just 20 (still a huge number back in those teenage days). They didn’t last that long, contracting some common Neon fish disease, ending her colorful experiment. But that still lasts in my memory, and there it is still a very long tank filled with 100 (well maybe only 50) bright colorful Cardinals shining like neon lights against that black gravel and background.
Today, for however long they last, I have two schools of 20+ fish in each of two large tanks, mostly Neons, but at least 10 are Cardinals, moving Marie’s memory into today’s reality where I can actually validate those numbers and yes, there are 20 in each tank.
Thanks Marie, for the wonderful memories (my eyes are tearing up as I write this and recall her impact on our lives those many years ago), often driving us kids to a swimming hole in her pink (yes, PINK!) Buick, the Stanley Home Products distinctive award she earned for a lifetime of customer sales and service, which today is still carried on by her son, Ray, my lifetime friend and fellow tropical fish hobbyist.
Check out my office tank with its school of Cardinals and Neons recorded minutes ago now on YouTube for you at

When I look back on my personal values, one that has remained constant over these past 7 decades has been always learning something new. Much of that comes in the form of reading or listening to audio books, with two or three books in progress at any given time. Even in looking back over a career that I can honestly say I loved every day of it, whether it was short order cook (teen years at Danford’s in Metuchen, NJ), selling jewelry at Metuchen Jeweler’s, giving customer service at the local tropical pet store or car hopping at Stewart’book librarys Root Beer stand in nearby Ford’s NJ (great lessons when you work on tips – good service means rewards with each car you waited on; work hard and you make more – lessons every young person needs to learn to succeed in later years), or teaching high school mathematics (at St. Peter’s high school in New Brunswick NJ where I attended and later taught at as a peer with my former teachers – loved those kids and working days!).  I even was the high school tennis coach, an assignment that drove me to the library to learn how to play and score tennis since I had no background in the sport until then.

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Later in corporate America working at Sperry, Univac, Unisys – the names changed over my forty years, as did the company – but always moving into a different challenging role every 3 years – constantly learning new things, usually by sitting down with individual team members and watching them do a job, then asking if I can try my had at it – great bonding and fun way to learn. Whether it was teaching (yes, never strayed far from that stand up in front of a classroom even in this environment) or presenting product to a customer/prospect, I was learning and growing.

It was during those years that I came to recognize how important a value that was to giving me satisfaction in my life. It was never hard work even when it required working beyond 24 hours in a day, and sometimes it did!

Now in retirement that still plays a major role in living a fulfilled life each day. Whether its hosting a support group meeting for organ transplant patients learning from a kidney recipient turned kidney transplant surgeon last Thursday evening, Saturday attending a day long leadership summit listening to a presenter from the UK sharing what organ donation is like in their world, attending a bible study on Sunday followed by a learning workshop on how to lead a church council, each expands my world of interest just as it has for these many years.

And so it goes, bones may ache, health conditions may challenge, but the mind remains alive and hungry. That’s why, after reading a Washington Post editorial about the political climate just before now, I found myself distracted in watching a YouTube video on how they make bubble gum! (which I then posted on Twitter, another social media resource I’m trying to learn how to use effectively – learning, learning, learning!) – and then was moved to share here in my long neglected blog, this story of today and learnings.

So what are your values that make your own daily life worth living? Not sure? Take some quiet time to ask and answer that question, then focus more of your life in that direction to get more enjoyment out of life today and everyday.

So now I’m off to more reading and a to-do list that is too long for a life in retirement that is supposed to be one of quiet and resting. My lesson for you today: don’t believe it – life is to be lived and the more you learn the more interesting each day can be.

What does one write in a blog?  For me the answer is serendipity moments in life.  Today, for example, a friend, Mary Wu, wrote about her name, challenging her blog readers to respond to a question about our nicknames.  Despite a list of things to do, I usually stop and reply to her thoughtful sharings.   Today I wrote back  . . .

To Mary: What an interesting challenge (“what’s in your name/nickname…?”) – for me I have a few nicknames, “Jimmy Mike” was an early name used when mom meant business.

Jimmy Mike, little sister, Sissy, and mom - 1947

Jimmy Mike, little sister, Sissy, and mom – 1947

Mimmy Mike” was used by my loving grandmother in growing up, she even still used that when I was a teenager and beyond.

Jim at year of graduation from St. Peter's High School (1960)

Jimmy at graduation from St. Peter’s High School (1960)

Just “Jimmy” by my friends – esp Ray & Joyce who have been in my life since 5th grade –  who still use that today, after 60+ years of friendship from growing up and through adulthood

Jim & Ray, friends for 65+ years with many more to come . . .

Jim & Ray, friends for 65+ years with many more to come . . .





As a high school math teacher, it was “Mr. Gleason” to my students.

"Mister Gleason" at the blackboard (1968)

“Mister Gleason” at the blackboard (1968)









For family and most friends today, it’s just plain “Jim

"Jim" is the most common today

“Jim” is the most common today












My full formal name: James Michael Gleason – taken from my father’s, James Michael, so I’m really a ‘Jr” a name that traces back to my grandfather on his side, “Michael James” – and then we named my son, to avoid the dreadful  “2nd” “Michael James.”

"My wonderful dad" and namesake, James Michael Gleason, Sr.

“My wonderful dad” and namesake, James Michael Gleason, Sr.



But most interesting is the surname, “Gleason” which means ‘son of a glass maker.’  My father was a ceramic engineer and did actually create, from natural elements, new types of glass, so I am indeed a “Glea-son”, the son of my father the glass maker!



I’ve always accepted my name and nick names proudly, especially once I found that meaning and connection to my dad’s occupation/name, “glass-maker”

“So what’s in your name?”

In order for there to be a heart transplant, someone has to be on the other side, a heart donor.  For the elated recipient and family, there is another family going through a tragic sad loss.  And so it is with my transplant success story here.

Let me first say that for as much publicity we see around the TV show stories of donors and recipients meeting, it isn’t a common thing given the anonymous process by which an organ becomes the gift for a dying patient.  My best guess is that less than 5% ever get to know their donor family, much less actually get to meet each other.  That said, I am blessed to be one of that small percentage and thus have come to know my parallel story which I will share here.

From meeting my donor’s brother, Gilberto, I know the story of Roberto Cuebas.

Roberto Cuebas - heart donor

Back on October 8th, Roberto was out celebrating his 38th birthday in Brooklyn, New York.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was attacked on the street and beaten about the head with a baseball bat.  For the next ten days, Roberto lay in a comma (that’s not death) and when his brain stopped, was declared brain dead.  His brother, Gilberto, led his brothers and sisters to make the decision for Roberto to be an organ donor.  His heart ended up over in Philadelphia that fateful day, October 19th, saving the life of this dying man at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  Amazingly, that strong athletic heart is still beating today, 21 years later in the body of this 72 years young man sharing this story.


Gil and I met in person at the 2000 US Transplant Games where we sat together in the donor recognition ceremonies in Florida that year.

G Cuebas and JimG Cuebas and Jim standing

Each year on the anniversary I send him an update on the past years life with that heart.  Last year as that day approached for some reason I was hesitant to write, feeling that maybe these annual letters might be bringing sadness back into their family life.  But few days before that writing, , Gil called and in that surprise conversation he mentioned how much he was looking forward for that years update letter.  Much relieved, I sat down and finished that letter, just as I did last Thursday again this year, expressing my heartfelt gratitude and offering news and photo updates for the past year.

One highlight in that letter was our visit to Roberto’s grave in Brooklyn recently, where we left a bouquet of flowers from our home garden and prayed over the site where both he and his parents are buried as seen in this photo . . .

DSCN9720 compr  DSCN9713

(a continuation of the story below from Oct 19th, 1994 . . .)
Sometime later that day, (October 20th) after the 6am, (not a false start of that 6pm first reaction…) realization that the new heart was beating strong in this weakened frame, the team of docs stopped in to check out progress. I was awake and feeling great, enjoying breaths of air so different from the day before. They asked “So, how’s the pain?” to which I amazingly and honestly replied, “I don’t have any pain.”

Their response was “Well you will after the anesthesia wears off!” (funny side note: every time I share that exchange in telling my story to medical audiences, they almost always laugh. I have yet to figure out how that forecast of pain is so funny, but it is a consistent reaction to that story – go figure!) They left, only to return several hours later and asking the same question, “How’s the pain?” to which I again am happy to reply, “Still no pain!” Imagine that, given all that has to take place to access the old heart – break open the sternum, remove that heart, place the new one in and connect it, then close each layer of the body back up – and NO PAIN! In the years since I can confirm that many others I have mentored had the same experience!

During that second visit, they asked, “Do you think you can sit up?”  I was willing if they were ok with that and with help I was sitting on the side of the bed.  Then they asked, “Do you think you can walk over to that chair there?”  It wasn’t a marathon, but heck, within 24 hours of having your heart replaced, there I was walking (with support) across the short distance to sit in a chair.  “Awesome!”

The next day someone delivered the news that they had to get me out of that surgical intensive care recovery room. They had a heart coming for John, the third heart-beat! All three of us received our new hearts the same week, something they say often happens in sets of three in hospitals. Imagine that!

Once out of intensive care, my answers to the daily question of how are you doing continued to be “Great!”  “Humm…” they would say, “that should be wearing off by now.”  Thank God, it didn’t.  That feeling was – and continues to be – great!  (yes, even many more miles and 21 years later, still great each and every day)

I clearly remember the chief surgeon, Dr. Michael Acker, coming into my room a couple days after the surgery looking tired and resting back into the chair next to my bed.  He shared his feelings with the following exchange: “Mr. Gleason, I held your (old) heart in my hands (Jim: Wow, just imagine that!) and I can tell you, there is no way it could have supported your active life style!  It was so damaged – less than 15% capacity left – a real testament to the human spirit that you could keep up with all you were doing!”  Talk about emotions!  Let me just close with an emotional “Thank you!” to everyone involved in making it possible to share the experience in this writing – i.e, in helping to get me over to this extended new life I now live.  No more caring and loving professionals could ever have been found.  They really became “family” and in my life that term is very special, because I am blessed with a very large and loving family.

(stay tuned for a parallel story . . .)