Our Stories

Brianna Barker - Heart Recipient

Brianna tells her story to newly sworn U.S. citizens at a Naturalization Ceremony in Goshen, NY.
Brianna tells her story to newly sworn U.S. citizens at a Naturalization Ceremony in Goshen, NY.
Retired Family Court Judge Victor Ludmerer registers to become an organ donor after hearing Brianna's story.
Retired Family Court Judge Victor Ludmerer registers to become an organ donor after hearing Brianna's story.

At the age of 7, Brianna Barker was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, the result of a virus that settled in her heart. Between the ages of 7 and 13, she spent over 100 days in the hospital undergoing many different procedures and surgeries, and trying different medicines with different side effects, all in an effort to make her better.


Unfortunately, those treatments were unsuccessful and on the evening of June 10, 2011, Brianna suddenly went into cardiac arrest at home. When she arrived at the hospital, her heart function was 11%. She was in heart and lung failure and doctors were uncertain about her brain function because she had been in cardiac arrest for 8 minutes.

She survived and on June 24, 2011, just weeks before her 14 birthday, she received a heart transplant that saved her life. She received it just ten days after she was placed on a waiting list. Receiving a life-saving organ so quickly is not the norm; Brianna was one of the lucky ones.

Unfortunately, there are over 117,000 people across the country who are waiting for a life-saving transplant, and as many as 18 people die each day waiting for an organ. “That’s 18 people who have dreams, feelings, family members, friends, and sentimental accomplishments just as you and I have, that needlessly pass away, leaving an empty space in the lives of so many people,” says Brianna. “My organ donor saved my life, and they are the reason I’m here today.”


Claudia Grammatico - Donor Mom

Claudia Grammatico and Joe Senatore appearing together at an event on Long Island.
Claudia Grammatico and Joe Senatore appearing together at an event on Long Island.

Claudia is one of the original leaders of the Donate Life Group of Orange County.  She lost her son Paul, 26, to a drunk driver on Long Island in 2000.  She was at her son's side when New York Donor Network officials asked about her wishes.  Through her anguish and pain, she whispered "yes", and 13 people gained new life through Paul's organs.


The man who received Paul's heart, Joe Senatore of Bay Shore, Long Island, rides his motorcycle to visit Claudia.  As she climbs beind him on his bike and wraps her arms around him, she feels his heart beating -- her son's heart.


"That moment when an organ is transplanted is like a kiss between heaven and earth," she says.


Gary Southard - Heart Recipient

Gary Southard running the maple syrup operation at the New York YMCA Camp in Huguenot.
Gary Southard running the maple syrup operation at the New York YMCA Camp in Huguenot.

Gary, a retired New York State Corrections Officer whose life was saved by a heart transplant in 2006, saw first hand how too many young lives were being lost to crime.  


Now, in the early months of the year when scores of maple trees around the New York YMCA Camp in Huguenot give up some of their life sustaining sap to a labor intensive process that turns it into maple syrup, Gary gives back hundreds of hours of his time so that disadvantaged New York City kids get the financial support they need to attend the camp in the summer. 


Gary is an active Donate Life volunteer.  "Since my transplant," he says, "I will spend the rest of my days on this earth doing my best to make sure the 110,000-plus people in the United States waiting for transplants get their opportunity as well." 


Ellen Dunn - Double Lung Recipient

Ellen before her double lung transplant.
Ellen before her double lung transplant.

Ellen had only weeks left to live.


By the time she was rushed to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center for a lung transplant in November 2008, she was so sick that she could barely move without an oxygen tank, let alone leave the house.


Two years earlier, Ellen had been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring or thickening of the lungs without a known cause.


As she recovered from the surgery that gave her a new set of lungs, the doctor informed Ellen's husband, Ken, that his wife's ailing lungs were the worst he'd ever seen.  That transplant did more than just restore her life.  It saved her life.

Ellen with her daughter.
Ellen with her daughter.

Since her transplant surgery, she's been able to spend quality time with her husband of over 30 years and their children, watching them pursue their young adult lives thanks to someone who donated a gift of life.


Now, Ellen is working to save others through the Donate Life Group of Orange County. She encourages families to discuss their wishes with their loved ones to ease the burden of the end of life choices.  She asks, "Choose to donate life and leave a lasting legacy."

Guy Peifer - Living Kidney Donor

Guy Peifer and his brother Jeff together at a charity fundraiser five months after their kidney transplant operations.
Guy Peifer and his brother Jeff together at a charity fundraiser five months after their kidney transplant operations.

About 30 percent of people with Type 1 (juvenile onset) diabetes eventually suffer from kidney failure. For Guy's younger brother Jeff, that fact became a reality in early 2010.


To avoid kidney dialysis, doctors at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center immediately began the process of screening family members as potential kidney donors.  Jeff’s three brothers, his wife and a sister-in-law volunteered to be tested for tissue matching. Tissue matching involves proteins, called antigens. The best long-term outcomes for kidney transplants are between persons who share all antigens, or those who are a six-antigen match. Guy was a perfect match, so the decision as to who in the family would be the donor was an easy one.


After clearing a slew of comprehensive tests to make sure Guy’s kidneys were functioning properly and that both he and Jeff were physically in good shape, the surgery was scheduled for April 23.


In Guy’s case, the removal of one of his kidneys was done laproscopically – three small incisions were made for the medical instruments and a fourth incision, about three inches long below the beltline, was used to deliver the kidney. The surgery took place on a Friday and he was released from the hospital on Sunday. Guy then recuperated at home for three weeks. Today, he feels as good as he did before the transplant and has no restrictions on his diet or his activities.


Guy now volunteers a considerable amount of his time to the New York Organ Donor Network while Jeff continues to donate countless hours to the YMCA in Orange and Sullivan counties and the Monroe Volunteer Ambulance Corps.


Lindsey Winer - Kidney Recipient

In 2001, Lindsey Winer was diagnosed with IGA nephropathy, a disorder that prevents the kidneys from properly doing their job of filtering the body’s blood. With medication, her condition remained stable for 10 years.


Then everything changed when she became sick and was told by her doctor that she would need dialysis to do the job her kidneys could no longer do. The news was devastating and the only alternative to dialysis was a kidney transplant.


In December 2011, Lindsey began her testing at New York–Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Her family members were tested to see if one of them could be a living donor, but no one was a suitable match. She knew that the waiting list for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor was long and it would probably be many years before she moved to the top of the list, thereby necessitating the dialysis she did not want.


Lindsey’s only hope was for a living donor – an angel – outside of her family to come forward and offer one of his or her healthy kidneys. After months of publicizing her need by posting flyers in stores, restaurants, delis and shopping malls, a young woman called Lindsay and asked to meet. They did, and at the end of the conversation, Lindsey knew she found a new friend, and perhaps her angel.


Then, on April 27, 2012, while Lindsey was at work, she received this simple but highly emotional text message: “I’m a match. How does June 28th sound for a transplant?”


Lindsey’s friends and family had been telling her all along that “miracles do happen”. Thanks to her angel, she now believes it.


Kelly Krzyzak - Heart Recipient

On February 5, 2015, Kelly Krzyzak was cutting out Valentine’s Day hearts with her students at Little Lambs nursery school when she started feeling unwell. She went home and told her husband she was experiencing terrible indigestion. A short time later, she was suddenly stricken with intense chest pains and vomiting. Kelly’s husband called 911, and she was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where was stabilized, then airlifted to Westchester Medical Center the following day.


Kelly had a severe heart attack, after which she suffered two strokes causing her to slip into a coma. She woke up 12 days later, not knowing where she was or what happened to her.


Kelly tried to get the pastor’s attention, but was unable to talk because she was intubated and couldn’t move due to her strokes. Her nurse noticed she was awake, and brought her husband into her room. He explained what happened, and told Kelly that while she was in a coma she received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a pump used for patients who have reached end-stage heart failure. This battery-operated mechanical pump helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body.


Kelly was added to the national transplant waitlist, hoping the LVAD would buy her the time she needed to receive a new heart. She spent 76 days in the hospital and in rehab, where she re-learned how to eat (the stroke damaged Kelly’s right vocal cord making it difficult to swallow) and walk before she was cleared to return home to wait for a donor heart to become available.


Over the next 11 months, still weak from her stroke, Kelly relied on the help of her husband of 25 years, Donovan, their 23-year-old daughter, 18-year-old son, and Kelly’s mother. Finally, on March 11, 2016, the Krzyzak family received the call they had been waiting for. Kelly’s transplant coordinator Maureen asked, “We have a match, can you come to Westchester right away?” The next day, 13 months and one week after her heart attack, Kelly received a successful heart transplant.