Three People Whose Lives Were Changed by Kidney Transplants Speak About Love, Courage and Commitment

Sharon Connellys son was killed during a drunken driving accident, decides to have her son's organs donated.

MANHASSET, NY – After waiting more than nine years, Tommy Chang, of Bayside, NY, learned that he could stop the weekly dialysis sessions that left him feeling enslaved and become a kidney recipient. According to his calculations, the entire process of dialysis cost him over 18 hours a week. In February, Mr. Chang was transplanted with a kidney received from a deceased donor, enabling him to get his life back. As Mr Chang puts it, “I have to thank every organ donor, living or deceased, who gives the rest of us a second chance at life.”

 Augie Rodriguez, of Hillsborough, NJ, is a native of New York City, who served the FBI in various capacities. His brother, Reinaldo Rodriguez, known as “Rambo” by the family, had spoken of his wish to become an organ donor in 2006. Augie agreed to be the executor of his brother’s will and to honor this request, even though he never thought it would become a reality. Four years later, Reinaldo became a patient at North Shore University Hospital, the victim of a brain aneurysm. In spite of the family’s pain, when the time came, Augie helped his parents and siblings come to terms with Reinaldo’s decision. “Although they were shocked at the prospect of losing their youngest son forever, they soon realized that Reinaldo could continue to live on by helping others with organ gifts.”

 In December 2011, Sharon Connelly, formerly of Laurelton, NY, and now a Georgia resident, received that call that every parent dreads: her 21-year-old son Gary had been killed by a drunk driver. The family, visiting New York for a funeral, had plans to return home on Thursday. Tragically, Gary was killed the day before. “My baby died that day,” said Ms. Connelly, “yet, he lives on not only in our hearts, but in the lives of 75 individuals who were recipients of his organ and tissue donations.”

 These three inspirational people revealed their emotional stories during a recent news conference held at North Shore University Hospital to commemorate National Donate Life Month. The news conference was just one part of a series of “Gift of Life” celebrations held at hospitals across the North Shore-LIJ Health System. These inspiring events serve as a reminder of the critical need for more organ, tissue, bone marrow and blood donors, and to educate the public about ways to make this happen.

 More than 113,000 people in the US, including about 11,000 in New York State, are awaiting life-saving organ transplants. Each day, about 77 people nationwide will get an organ transplant and a second chance at life, but sadly, 19 others will die waiting for a transplant. One person who donates organs can save up to six lives, while a tissue donor can improve 12 or more lives.
Eight other North Shore-LIJ hospitals are holding organ and tissue donation awareness events this month.

 “All of these efforts have dramatically increased organ and tissue donations,” said Susan Somerville, executive director of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. “In 2011, 38 organ donors from North Shore-LIJ hospitals resulted in 85 life-saving transplants. We are committed to making these numbers grow.”

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