TAMPA, Fla. - April is Donate Life Month and dozens of people linked hands on Saturday afternoon in Ybor City in support of organ and tissue donation.
Darren Sussman, a kidney and pancreas recipient, attended the event. A year and a half ago, he was suffering from end stage kidney failure due to a lifetime of Type 1 diabetes. He was on dialysis, which zapped him of his energy to the point that he had to rest at the top of the stairs in his home before continuing on to his bedroom.
Sussman was on the waiting list for a kidney and pancreas transplant, which would get him off dialysis and cure his diabetes. In six months, he learned he would receive the dual transplant. He says it's changed his life.
"Once I received the transplant, I was free of diabetes and free of kidney disease and when I got discharged from the hospital the doctors had said to 'go home and throw out all your insulin, throw out your syringes.'"
Jennifer Krouse is with Lifelink of Florida, the non-profit organization that sponsored Saturday's event. She says, "We have 114,000 people waiting for a life saving transplant in the United States today. Hundreds of thousands more could benefit from tissue transplantation, and every single day 18 people die because they don't receive the transplant they need."
Krouse says it's easy to become an organ and tissue donor. You can sign up when you renew your driver's license or your state ID, or you can click here to register online.
Meanwhile, Sussman knows the family responsible for giving him a second chance at life. The Paleveda family was grieving the loss of their beloved son, brother, and friend, Casey. Casey Paleveda, 22, died from a drug overdose that resulted in loss of brain function. The Palevedas were presented with the option of organ donation, a chance for Casey's final legacy to be one of life.
They said, "Yes."
Little did Darren Sussman or the Paleveda family know, but at that moment, their lives were forever entwined.
Sussman received Casey's kidney and pancreas in December 2010. The donation process between donor family and transplant recipient is anonymous, although it is not unusual for communication to pass between the two through appropriate channels. It's not typical for a family to meet a recipient of their loved one's organs by chance, but in the case of Sussman and the Paleveda family, they did.
During his free time, Sussman does everything in his power to increase organ donation awareness so that other patients in need of life saving transplants are helped, and to honor Casey's memory.
Even though the Paleveda family isn't typically in the audience when Sussman tells his story, they support his mission to save lives, and they are present in spirit.