Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I met a girl in Philly, whose story was a Dilly......

     I could easily start a hundred different blogs with the opening line, "I met a girl in a bar this time..." but could I write one that was inspirational and that started like that?  I think so.  You be the judge. 

     I met a girl in a bar in Philadelphia a few months ago.  As aforementioned, this is not an uncommon occurrence for me, however, meeting one with an inspirational story, now that is something else. It was happy hour and a work colleague and I were standing at an upscale martini type bar that was 3 deep with patrons.  It was loud and bustling and the crowd ran more white collar than blue and we were chatting with each other, but also introduced ourselves to a few ladies that were within shouting distance of us.  We became immediate friends with 2 women, fresh from a real estate seminar, seated at the bar, between us and the bartender, and formed a strategic alliance to keep our drinks flowing.  I then turned to my left, which was when I spotted Melissa. She was easy to spot at happy hour, because unlike most of the crowd at a bar after work, she truly looked happy, which was evidenced by the wide smile that was spread across her face.  I think she was there to pick up a takeout order before heading for home.  It would have been easy to start a conversation with her based solely on her smile, but then I noticed a dog eared piece of cardboard or picture stock, rectangular in shape, sticking oddly out of her purse.  I'm a curious guy, so I introduced myself and after exchanging pleasantries, I inquired about the item, and that's when I got to meet Sean. 

     "He's my Lifesaver" she said as she pulled the piece out and turned it over to reveal a picture of a handsome 14 year old boy in a baseball uniform. The picture had been laminated, but showed years of wear on it, and I got the impression immediately that Sean had done some traveling.   I was reminded of my
Flat Stanley meeting the President
kid's elementary school experiences with the "Flat Stanley" project.  Flat Stanley was a series of books that outlined the travels of a kid that was flattened accidentally by a bulletin board and the project was to print a copy of Flat Stanley, color him, and travel places with him and to document your travel with logs and pictures.  I have a work friend that tells a hilarious story of traveling with Flat Stanley one time when her plane had engine difficulties, and had to return to the airport.  He handled the situation much better than she did, and as a matter of fact Flat Stanley was aboard the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson river a few years ago, but I digress, Melissa carried her picture of her lifesaver, Sean wherever she went just like Flat Stanley, but admittedly, her back story was far more touching than Flat Stanley's. 

Melissa year 1 of her transplant
     Sixteen years ago Melissa had gone to volunteer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and during the screening process, it was discovered that she had a chronic kidney illness that was undiagnosed at that time.  She underwent a myriad of tests, treatments and surgeries, but eventually, after 8 years,  her Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), caused her to need dialysis.  She chose to do it home and for the next 4 years, she did 10 hour nightly treatments, logging 15,000 hours of dialysis in that time.  She describes her life then,  as having 2 full time jobs, one of which was saving her life each and every night.  She was actually on vacation 4 years later when she got the call about Sean's untimely bicycle accident and death, and of his family's amazing gift of life.  They chose to donate Sean's organs and one of his kidneys had been designated for Melissa.  In total, at least 17 people were impacted by Sean's family's actions and each of them became like instant family to his folks, Andy and Gail.  I've not met any of the others, but I can speak for Melissa's gratitude and appreciation for the gift of life that she received from Sean and his family, and she does a fantastic job of keeping Sean's memory alive by traveling with him and re-telling the story of how Sean became her Hero and saved her life.  She actually does that and a whole lot more.

     In the conversation that night and in subsequent e-mails, I've learned that telling Sean's story is only one part of what Melissa does to give back for her gift of life.  She went to work for the transplant department at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philly.  She keeps in regular contact with Sean's family, including Gail his
One of Melissa's awards
mom, and in fact they speak together to groups sometimes, each sharing their side of what a donation like this can mean for the donor family and the recipient.  She travels each day with Lifesavers and Sean and recounts her and Sean's story whenever she can (She shares her Lifesavers too).  She takes photos of her and Sean and sends them back to Andy and Gail to show them how their son is still living through her and that he allows her to live a normal active lifestyle.  It's been 4 years since she received this gift of life and her gratitude and appreciation for this family's sacrifice and gift has not diminished one iota.  She had competed several times as an athlete at the Transplant Games, representing Philadelphia and Sean and has won awards for her participation. She has done local Public Service announcements, in fact you can view hers for the 2012 Donate Life Month here (Melissa's PSA )   She speaks publicly often and tries to educate people to the value of organ donation.  She's been interviewed on local TV, appearing with Sean's mother Gail ( CBS Interview). Don't forget, however, Melissa's in only one of the recipients who continues to live each day, due to Sean.  The recipient who received Sean's heart, for example, became the first heart transplant patient to have twins, how incredible is that?  Gail says it best about my new friend Melissa, however, when she simply states that "She has Sean's energy".  I never met Sean, but I guarantee that, that evening, I met his energy.

     I was reluctant, years ago to sign an organ donation card.  It was my daughter Molly who convinced me to do it the last time that I renewed my license.  Here in NY, your choice is designated right under the class of license that you have with a red heart and organ donor printed under it.  It was Melissa and Sean's story that reaffirmed that decision and I would encourage you to consider giving this Gift of Life too.  With this blog, I hope I've given you a look at how powerful a difference that this simple decision can make in many people's lives.  Share this story, it's a good one and a reminder to live like Melissa.  Smile, appreciate each day that God gives us, be grateful for the gifts we are given, and try to make a difference in the world.    Do it for Sean too.

Melissa and Sean.



cdyarger said...

Wonderful blog - sure to be one of your favorites! I have never met Melissa or Sean, but my heart swells for them both. What a wonderful gift Sean's family gave, and what a wonderful way to live a life you did not expect to have. Thanks for sharing this with us Melissa!

Judy Johnson said...

Wonderful story, Bill. Such a neat experience for you and a great message. Thanks very much for making my day!