Our team at ConnectLife is very excited to annouce our new series called "Share Your Heart." We are sharing inspiring donation and transplantation stories of local donor families, supporters, living donors, recipients, and more. Get inspired by these incredible stories.

Meet Stacy 

PART 1: Stacy reflects on the moment that changed her life forever. The year was 2010. One day on her commute into work she came upon a car accident. She leaped out of her car and tried to assist the young man she found in the smoking car. She tried her best to cover his face and provide him comfort until help arrived. When an ambulance finally came, she watched them take him away, and she continued onto work. The next day, she received a call from a man. He left her a voicemail that she still has to this day.
 
“He thanked me for helping his son,” says Stacy. “I followed his progress at the hospital as much as I could without intruding, one of my biggest regrets other than not being able to do more, was not going to the hospital to hold his hand one more time.”
 
After fighting for 2 weeks, this young man named Andrew sadly succumbed to his injures. During this incredibly difficult time, Andrew’s family decided to donated his heart valves to ConnectLife.
 
Since his passing, Stacy has grown close with the Gramza family. And Stacy has joined in the Gramza family's mission to spread awareness for blood and organ donation through multiple blood drives, raffles, events, etc.
 
"Andrew needed a few blood transfusions and if it wasn't for blood donors, that would not have been able to happen. Such a tragic event has turned into such an inspiring story of hope and help for a community," says Stacy.
 
 
PART 2: “Before Andrew’s accident, I donated blood maybe twice; I am sad to admit I didn't donate nearly as much as I should have. But 2010 changed my life. Now, nothing would stop me from helping in the mission to spread awareness for blood, tissue, organ, and birth tissue donation. My husband joined in the mission with me when we first started dating back in 2011, and I am happy to say in October of 2017 I gave birth to an O negative amazing little boy. I hope one day he can joins in our mission, too!” says Stacy.
 
 
PART 3: We asked Stacy, what she has learned about organ, eye, and tissue donation over the past 10 years and she said...
 
“Birth tissue donation is a thing! I was so shocked and excited about this when I found out and I was pregnant. I love telling people they can do this, they are shocked and that this type of donation would help a lot of people. Also I have learned and met so many amazing families, loved ones, and receipts of organ donations; their stories are amazing and warms my heart. It reminds me of the good people in this world and of the fight people do daily. Helps me not take so much for granted.”
 

Meet Courtney

 
 
PART 1: "I am one of seven children. I was brought up in West Seneca, NY. My brother Matthew was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of seven. He has been living with T1D for almost forty years. Eleven years ago, we found out that Matthew's kidney were shutting down. This is due to effects of T1D over the years. My brothers and sisters and I were all tested."
 
"I was the first to be tested at Buffalo General Hospital the Monday after Thanksgiving. My other siblings were going later that week. I received a call the very next day stating I was a perfect match. When you get tested they base it on a scale of 1 to 6. 6 being a perfect match. The higher the number the less chance of rejection. I was told they normally wait for all of us to be tested before giving results, but because I was a perfect match they wanted to let me know. I was at work when they called and screamed out loud, 'I'm a match, I'm a match.'"
 
"I immediately called Matthew right away and told him. We were both crying. It was one of the best days of my life. So many people are on the waiting list for a kidney, and here we were a perfect match. I can't put into words how blessed and thankful I was at that moment," says Courtney.
 
 
 
PART 2: Courtney talks about her decision to donate her kidney to her brother, Matthew.

"After receiving the rest of the results from my other siblings (3 came in at 4 and one was 1), I decided to donate my kidney to my brother. I would do anything to save his life. There was no thought in my mind that I wouldn't do it. Matthew is a wonderful husband, father, brother, and friend. He would do anything for his family. He is hard working and will help you when you need it."

"Once the decision was made we began the process. The transplant was scheduled for February 4, 2010. I had to go through many different tests. The team at Buffalo General Hospital was wonderful. I couldn't have asked for better support or process of this transplant. Some of the tests/processes that I had to do before we could do the transplant were: stress test, angiogram, blood work every week until the transplant, collection of urine of 48 hours (twice), meeting with psychiatrists to make sure I understood the process of giving an organ and that I wasn't be pressured to do it."

"On Thursday, February 4th, 2010, I was able to donate my kidney to my brother Matthew. Immediately after the donation he was feeling better and his coloring in his face had come back. Fast forward to today, Matthew is doing very well and now has a 4-year-old daughter Norah, who is the love of his life." says Courtney.
 
 
PART 3: "Since my kidney donation, I have realized how important it is to donate blood and be an organ donor. I had no idea at the time of what it takes to give a kidney, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. After the transplant I started donating whole blood, double reds, and plasma on a regular basis. There are so many people in need, and it's so easy to do. One donation of blood saves three peoples' lives.

I participate in the Donate Life walk every year. I received a few years ago an award for being a "living donor." ConnectLife is a wonderful organization. I am always greeted with a smile and thanked when I go to donate blood. I have had nothing but wonderful experience with ConnectLife," says Courtney.
 

Meet Matt

First, we shared Courtney's side of the story. Now, it's Matt's turn.

PART 1: "I would read about people who had transplants on the internet and I would see on TV shows about certain transplants but I never knew what was involved to become a donor or to receive an organ," says Matt.

"When I told my family that I would need a transplant, I was most worried about my wife, Meagan, and my mother. It is not fair that my beautiful wife had to go through this, and I can't imagine what was going through her head at that time and how she was going to deal with it. As always, she was a warrior through and through! She was up to date on everything that was involved, did her research and asked hundreds of questions! She wanted to make sure she knew everything and anything about the surgery and what was involved. She had a binder that was filled with notes and questions. She was my rock and still is to this day."

"My mother had gone through a lot in her life, too much, and the thought of her having to deal with something like this, broke my heart. I tried to be strong for my family as much as I could. I did my best to not let anyone see my personal fear or sadness that I was experiencing since I knew they didn't need to see that. I assembled my brothers and sisters at my mother's house and gave them the news and asked if any one of them would be willing to get tested to see if they were a match. Of course, like any strong family, all of them went to get tested and were willing to give me a kidney," says Matt.

PART 2: "My oldest sister, Courtney came back as a perfect match. I was working at the time when she called me to tell me. I could hear the absolute joy in her voice when she told me. I will be forever grateful to her for giving me her kidney as well as my other family members who didn't think twice about helping me out," says Matt.

"My journey like everyone else, involved many tests to see if I was able to receive a donation. This involved many trips to the hospital where blood would be taken. I remember my wife seeing the number of vials that were taken in one sitting and she couldn't believe the amount of vials of blood that were taken. I told her that each vial is not really that much blood but that can be hard to convince your loved one when she sees 29 vials of her husband's blood in one shot!"

"The day of the transplant was like any typical February morning-cold and dreary, but I was excited to get this going but definitely afraid since this was MAJOR surgery. My wife and I were married for 3 years at this point and we had plans for our future. What if something went wrong? I wasn't ready for that to happen. I remember my Aunt Ann coming in before surgery and saying a prayer with me and knowing that my father, who had passed many years ago, would be with me throughout the surgery. I felt totally comfortable with my doctors that were going to perform the surgery, and I was very relaxed right before going in. The main surgeon spoke with me, and he seemed so relaxed and confident that it put me at ease instantly. I remember waking up after it was all done and seeing 2 nurses who had a big smile on their face and asked if I was okay and how I was feeling. Doctors and nurses come in every day and do their job at the highest level, but there is no prerequisite that it has to be done with a warm smile and kind heart. They offered that to me and my family every day I was there before the surgery, during the surgery, after the surgery and every day since," says Matt.

PART 3: "The biggest difference between pre- and post-transplant is my overall energy. Before the transplant, it was a huge struggle to get through the day. I would be exhausted by noon every single day and would have to fight in order to stay up and keep going. My skin was a terrible gray looking color, and I found it difficult just to get out of bed some days. After the transplant, my color and energy came back and I felt 20 years younger!" says Matt.

"It has been 10 years since I've had my transplant and I am happy to say that my sister's kidney is doing great for me! I will never be able to express how thankful I am to my sister for giving me this gift because that is exactly what it is - a gift of life. My wife, Meagan deserves so much credit for not only my recovery but for the strength and love she offered to me and my family even before the surgery. For those people that are thinking about donating life, my words of wisdom would be to do your research beforehand. Make sure you understand the importance of giving life."

"Please talk to your family and if given the chance, talk to people who have already donated an organ. It is very rare to save someone's life and even more rare to save a complete stranger's life. In the end, I can guarantee that you will never find anything more rewarding," says Matt. 

Meet Kim

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PART 1 "Tom and I met in 1995 through friends. When we first met, he drove me crazy and seemed like a whole lot of trouble. But that crazy turned into charm, that trouble was mostly talk, and we hit it off quickly. Tom had an incredible sense of humor. His smile and laugh were contagious. His jokes and poking fun at life – even at his own expense – often had you rolling on the ground.

He grew up in the Boston Hills. He was the youngest of three boys. He went to Hamburg schools and was a talented athlete. He played soccer, swam, golfed, was a really good baseball player, and springboard diver. Tom still holds a diving record at Hamburg High School and his name is displayed on the walls of the pool. Tom went on to ECC and eventually got a scholarship for the swimming and diving team at Cleveland State University. He was an athletic and academic all American both years, and his team won championships the years he attended.

Tom and I both graduated from college in May 1999. We were looking forward to all life had to offer us. Unfortunately, we faced a detour in our plan after a car accident six months later. The next chapters of his life were characterized by disability. Tom became a C4, C5 quadriplegic. It certainly changed his path in life and that of our family," says Kim. 

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PART 2 "Like anyone who suffers a traumatic injury, Tom’s first fight became one of life. He relied on doctors, nurses, and therapists to help him recover and gain strength. The next fight he faced was that of rehabilitation. He had to learn how to adapt and move forward in life not by taking steps, but by rolling forward in a set of powered wheels.

There were years of climbing mountains and navigating systems and it certainly tested us, and Tom’s spirit, but he moved forward. He moved forward by believing in his inner strength, and having the support and love of his family and friends. He never – through everything – lost his sense of humor or his vigor to take on life. Tom learned to drive again, fish again, and even ski again. He embraced life despite the challenges he faced. And we embraced each other as we ventured through them.

Tom and I were married in June 2002. We welcomed our twin daughters, Isabella and Jenna, into the world in April 2008. They were by far Tom’s greatest joy and accomplishment. Despite the challenges of his disability, he was a fantastic father. He was a true trooper and would play Barbies and attend tea parties. He just loved every part of being their dad. And we loved every part of him. How much we miss him can never be measured. We continue to celebrate him every day," says Kim.

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PART 3 "They say life is the sum of all your choices. And in his last days, I honored Tom's choice to be an organ donor. Tom chose to give life to others. Tom’s choice has helped so many people. Somewhere his heart is beating for another, his lungs are breathing for another, his liver and kidneys are giving new life to others. The list can go on. He is a true hero. Of course if he was here, he wouldn’t think that. He’d just think it was the right thing to do. And it was. As hard as it was to let him go, knowing that he has saved lives is powerful. It’s an amazing gift to give. He was an amazing person," says Kim.

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PART 4 "Prior to Tom’s death, we had those tough conversations about what each other would like if something were to happen. I of course wish this was not a decision I had to make at 38 years old for my 39-year-old husband just short of his 40th birthday, but it was. I knew his wishes to be an organ donor. We both have that indicated on our licenses, and we felt strongly about helping others if our life could not go on," says Kim.

We asked Kim, to share how organ donation has impacted her and her family. This is what she had to say...

"Our hardest day became the best day for many families. It’s the greatest act of grace we can give, the gift of life to others. I continue to advocate for organ donation and spread the message to become an organ donor or blood donor. Through our loss we have found purpose. We honor his legacy and gift as much as we can by doing the Donate Life Walk, raising money for his scholarship, and doing other activities to honor his memory. It has created connections that I never would have had otherwise, and it’s built friendships that gave us strength and courage to keep forward. All these things have also helped us heal along the way our broken hearts. Because of Tom, there are people out there that get to be with their families. We will always miss him and wish we had more time, but we are grateful for the time we did have," says Kim.