Pittsburgh Donor Family, Transplant Recipients Join Together to Give Thanks

November 22, 2016

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Pittsburgh, PA – On Monday, as Pittsburghers prepared for the holiday, four families that are connected forever met for their own Thanksgiving dinner. They gave thanks for the bond they share and urged everyone to register as an organ and tissue donor.

Mary Grace Hensell lost her son Brian in a car accident in 2011. Mark Hensell lost his brother. Audrey Sico lost her grandson. But Brian’s generous decision to give the gift of life means that he lives on in the lives he saved and the countless people they touch.

For the first time Monday, Brian’s family met two of the people he saved.

John Chomko of Fox Chapel received Brian’s liver.  Brian McTiernan of Sewickley received Brian’s kidney and pancreas.

“I’m so grateful to have the chance to meet Mary Grace and say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. As a father, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose a child. I know I have a debt that I can never repay. But I will honor Brian’s memory by doing everything I can to follow his example and save lives by urging everyone to register as an organ donor,” said Brian McTiernan.

They and their families were joined by Melvin Protzman, of Butler, who received Brian’s heart. Melvin and Mary Grace have met before and formed a strong friendship.

“I am thankful for every day and for every single breath. A few years ago, I had no way of knowing if I would ever sit down for Thanksgiving dinner again. Because one man made the selfless and heroic decision to give the gift of life, I get to be with my family,” said Melvin. 

“Losing a child is the hardest thing a parent can endure. But I am thankful for the knowledge that my son lives on because of his generous heart. I am grateful to know John, Brian, and Melvin, and their families, so I can see the life and love that Brian made possible,” said Mary Grace.

Together, the Hensells, Chomkos, McTiernans and Protzmans joined the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) to ask western Pennsylvanians to register as organ and tissue donors.

“8,000 people in Pennsylvania are on the organ transplant waiting list. This Thanksgiving they will give thanks to all the donor families who have made the Pledge for Life and hold onto to the hope that they will also receive the gift of life.  I am grateful to every person who has registered to be and organ and tissue donor and ask all families, this Thanksgiving to discuss giving the gift of life,” said Susan Stuart, CORE’s President and CEO.

Monday’s dinner took place at the Family House Shadyside, which provides a special ‘home away from home’ for patients and/or their families who are in Pittsburgh seeking medical treatment, including organ transplants.

More than 8,000 Pennsylvanian residents currently are on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant. Each organ donor can save up to eight lives and each tissue donor can improve up to 50 lives. Anyone regardless of age or medical history can sign up to be a donor, there is no cost to donors and their families, and all major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider donation as a final act of love and generosity toward others. Registering as an organ donor only takes 30 seconds and can be done at donatelifepa.org/registration.

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About Donate Life PA

Donate Life PA is a collaborative initiative between Gift of Life Donor Program (GOL), the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) – the two organ procurement organizations serving Pennsylvania – and the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Transportation. It is funded by state residents through voluntary contributions included with driver's license renewals, vehicle registrations and state income tax filings. All contributions are used by the Governor Robert P. Casey Memorial Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Trust Fund to educate residents, build awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation, and increase the number of people who sign up to become donors on their driver's license, learner's permit or state identification card. Visit us at DonateLifePA.org or at Facebook.com/DonateLifePennsylvania.

About the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE)

The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States. CORE works closely with donor families and designated health care professionals to coordinate the surgical recovery of organs, tissues and corneas for transplantation. CORE also facilitates the computerized matching of donated organs and placement of corneas. With headquarters in Pittsburgh and an office in Charleston, West Virginia, CORE oversees a region that encompasses 155 hospitals and almost six million people throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Chemung County, NY.