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Complete audio coverage of this event is available in the Audio Showcase by Bob Merion
by Joel Lerne and Bob Merion

"'Thank you' seems so trivial." by John U. Bacon

"'Thank you' seems so trivial."

by John U. Bacon

Thursday's Donor Recognition ceremony attracted over a thousand people, including living donors, donor families and appreciative recipients, who filled the ballroom at the Orlando Hyatt. Under each aisle seat the volunteers had placed a full box of Kleenex, in anticipation of the strong emotions that would be washing over the audience that night.

"Twenty years ago we were invisible," she said. "But boy oh boy, we are not invisible anymore!"
--Vicki Crosier

Frederick Herbert, Chairman of the National Kidney Foundation, welcomed the donors. "You can see here at the Transplant Games," he said, "that your gift is allowing the recipients to do exactly what the gift was intended for: living!"

The event was hosted by the National Donor Family Council, which Vicki Crosier helped found and now chairs. In just eight years, the group has grown to eight hundred members. Crosier commented on the growing profile donors have achieved since she became a donor mother. "Twenty years ago we were invisible," she said. "But boy oh boy, we are not invisible anymore!"

The audience was energized by a speech by kidney recipient Gerard Migliore, who opened his talk by confessing that he not only had failed to win any medals so far, he couldn't pin his race number on his shirt correctly. After struggling with it for some time earlier that day at the track, he thought he had finished the job until he discovered in the bathroom that he'd pinned his shirt and shorts together.

Having won over the crowd with his trademark self-effacing humor, he sought more serious terrain. Migliore paraphrased the theme of the Oscar-nominated movie, "Saving Private Ryan," in which a World War II unit makes great sacrifices to spare the Ryan family from losing their fourth son in the war. When the soldiers finally rescue Private Ryan, Tom Hanks' character admonishes Private Ryan, "Earn this!"

Migliore drew parallels to organ donors and their recipients. "You have all made tremendous sacrifices, and we all feel the need to justify the fact that you saved our lives." And the only way to do that, he added, is to lead productive, meaningful lives.

Like Private Ryan, Migliore lost three brothers -- not to enemy fire, but to kidney disease. When he was in college, Migliore himself almost become the fourth son to fall victim.

Characteristically, however, Migliore told the story of his struggle not with pathos but humor.

"Dialysis was tough," he said. "I was in college. And being in college and being on dialysis is a challenge, especially meeting girls. I remember at a party one time I saw a cute girl across the room. I smiled at her. And she smiled back! I'm thinking, maybe I have a chance here. Sure enough, she walked up to me and I said, 'How are you?' And she said, 'Fine. How are you feeling?'

"'Great, I said. 'Why?'

"'Because you look awful.'"

Migliore then described what it's like to be put on the waiting list for an organ donation. "At first you think every time the phone rings it might be The Call," he said. "Your hopes are high. The days pass. Then it becomes weeks, and months, and years, and you get sicker, and your hope fades a bit.

"But when the call finally comes -- I waited two years -- you get a burst of excitement, and relief. You're going to live. But then a few moments later you remember that the call came because someone else died, and you let that sink in."

But as all donor families and their recipients know, the tragedy is followed by a miracle -- and Migliore's recovery would qualify as one.

"I've got energy again," he said. "I can play sports. I've got a great job. And one day in the office cafeteria, I saw a beautiful woman and I went up to her -- and this time she didn't say 'You look awful!' So I thought, I have a shot. She's now my wife. And all this wouldn't be possible without your help."

"People come up to me and tell me, 'Wow, you're a hero. You've overcome all this and you're doing great,'" Migliore added. "But I think, Wait a minute. I am a recipient. I received. You are the heroes, you who were dropped in the middle of an awful situation, with a lot of pain, facing a tough decision. It would have been so easy to crawl into a hole and let others fight that mission. But you managed to look beyond your grief, beyond your pain, and give something vital to others, the gift of life. People you didn't even know."

"'Thank you' seems so trivial."

Migliore then quoted Tom Hanks, whose character said, 'Earn this!' in the movie. "Dying for freedom isn't the worst thing that can happen," Hanks has said. "Being forgotten is."

"Let me assure you," Migliore said, "that your loved ones will never be forgotten. We will always remember them, and appreciate what you've done for us."

Following Migliore's speech, the donors' names were read aloud, and their faces were displayed on the screen, one by one.

When the program concluded, there were few Kleenex boxes remaining under each aisle seat.





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