By Donald Wittkowski
Every year, on Sept. 15, Joe Pratt sends a “thank you” card to a family he has never met.
That date is the anniversary of Pratt’s life-saving surgery in 2013. He received two transplanted lungs from an organ donor who was killed in a car crash and was just 23 years old.
“This is all the information we have on my donor,” Pratt said of the man’s age and how he died. “I wish I knew more.”
Pratt, 74, of Upper Township, sends the cards to his donor’s family members to thank them and let them know he is in good health now. The cards are forwarded to the family by the Gift of Life Donor Program, but Pratt has not yet received a reply.
“Hopefully, one day I’ll have an opportunity to meet my donor family,” he said.
Pratt shared his story Saturday with 15 people who came to the Macedonia United Methodist Church in Ocean City to hear about the national organ donation program and how it is literally “the gift of life.”
“If it was not for my donor family, I would not be standing here today,” Pratt said.
Pratt spoke from an organ recipient’s point of view, but the audience also heard from the parents of a teenager whose heart, lungs, kidneys and pancreas were donated to four people.
Vivian and Tom Gano, of Cherry Hill, recounted the tragic day in 1986 when their 16-year-old son, Curtis, was hit by a van while riding his bicycle. Two days later, while he was in the hospital, Curtis was declared brain dead.
“I feel very strongly that we made the right decision,” Vivian Gano said of donating Curtis’ organs. “I feel my son was a hero, because he saved lives.”
The Ganos and Pratt are volunteers with the Gift of Life Donor Program. They appear at schools and before other groups to urge people to sign up to become organ donors.
“When the time comes, I hope you can donate the gift of life, like our son Curtis did,” Tom Gano told the audience at Macedonia United Methodist Church.
Organ donors and their families may choose to remain anonymous, which explains why Pratt has never heard from his donor’s family. The Ganos never met the recipients of their son’s organs or their families.
Pratt’s daughter, Joselle Pratt, said that 118,000 people nationwide are on a waiting list for organ transplants. Many don’t live long enough to receive them.
“Twenty-two people die each day waiting for an organ transplant,” said Joselle Pratt, of Norristown, Pa.
Joe Pratt was suffering from a debilitating lung disease when he was placed on the organ transplant list in 2013. At 11 o’clock, on the night of Sept. 14, 2013, he received a call that two donated lungs were waiting for him at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. He underwent surgery the next day.
“When I woke up, I had two brand new lungs,” he said.
Pratt is a member of the Macedonia United Methodist Church. Joan Robertson, a church leader, said in a prayer that God had intervened to save Pratt and have him serve as an inspiration to others.
“God has a mission for all of us,” Robertson said. “Brother Joe is a living example of organ donation. I thank God for the family that had the courage to give that gift of life.”
Robertson also recited a prayer that paid tribute to the Ganos and their son.
“He is living on in many places and in many hearts,” she said of Curtis.