Organ Transplant Donors and Recipients Discuss the Gift of Life

MANHASSET, NY – Three women whose lives had been touched by tragedy revealed their personal odyssey through pain and loss as they described their involvement with organ donation and transplantation during the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s annual Gift of Life celebration on Tuesday.

Before introducing each speaker, Ernesto Molmenti, MD, Surgical Director, NSUH Transplant Center, urged the audience to spread the word about the importance of organ donation.

“Too often, we hear that ailing parents are unwilling to ask their adult children for a vitally needed kidney,” he said. “We need to understand that these young people are delighted to save the life of the person who brought them into the world. It’s true they are heroes, but so are their parents who accept this wonderful gift and choose to live a healthy life.”

First up were Jose Soto and his daughter Aliana, who donated a kidney to her father. After speaking with great emotion about his journey through transplantation, Aliana followed with her understanding of the experience.

“We all have a lot of stuff in our lives, and we need to realize that we can’t let all these things get in the way of doing what’s right,” she said. “Ultimately, this is our purpose---to give life to someone we love and allow that person to live his life to the fullest.

Margaret Valsechi spoke with pride about her late son, Stephen, who passed away at the age of 26. Ms. Valsechi’s family hails from Ireland, where Stephen was living at the time of his death. She received “the call that every parent fears” from her sister, letting her know that Stephen had been in a terrible accident and that she needed to get home to Ireland right away.

Understanding that her son was not going to survive his injuries, she decided at that moment to honor his wishes and donate his organs.

 “Four people are now alive thanks to my tall, handsome son,” she said. “His kidneys were donated to two people in renal failure and his liver was donated to a 40-year-old woman.

“The greatest gift of all was that Stephen’s heart went to a 25-year-old man who is now married with children of his own, “ she said. “Our families have grown close, and it’s my great pleasure that the man who has my son’s heart now has children of his own. Their little boy is named Charlie Stephen in honor of my son. And when those children call me ‘Nana Megs’, it gives me indescribable pleasure.”

Ms. Valsechi spoke with great emotion about leaning in to hear her son’s heart beating in his donor’s chest and sharing other special memories.

“I was there for his wedding, and I watched him turn to see his bride walking down the aisle. I’m sure his heart skipped a beat when he saw his beautiful bride, and I thought that heart belongs to my child.”

Also on hand were Desiree Maldonado Mitchell and her beautiful baby daughter, Hudson. While Hudson played with her father and her big sister, Ms. Mitchell spoke about receiving the shocking news that her baby had been born with a congenital corneal defect. Thanks to the Lions Eye Bank of LI and the Manhattan Eye Bank, organizations devoted to corneal transplants, Hudson received two corneal transplants and the family is now “looking forward to a bright future.”

After hearing these courageous people describe their triumphs over death and despair, Dr. Molmenti said, “There are times in everyone’s life when the unexpected happens, and we are asked to rise up to meet the challenge. It’s often during these times that we realize that how much strength we have and that we all have the ability to make dreams come true.”

Nearly 120,000 people in the US---including about 10,000 in New York State---are awaiting life-saving organ transplants. Each day, about 75 people nationwide will get an organ transplant and a second chance at life. But sadly, 20 others will die waiting.

About North Shore-LIJ

The nation's 14th-largest healthcare system, North Shore-LIJ delivers world-class clinical care throughout the New York metropolitan area, pioneering research at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and a visionary approach to medical education highlighted by the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. North Shore-LIJ cares for people at every stage of life at 16 hospitals and nearly 400 outpatient physician practices throughout the region. North Shore-LIJ’s owned hospitals and long-term care facilities house more than 6,000 beds, employ more than 10,000 nurses and have affiliations with more than 9,400 physicians. With a workforce of more than 46,000, North Shore-LIJ is the largest employer on Long Island and the third-largest private employer in New York City.  For more information, go to













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