Second Chance Blog


High School Senior Returned to Soccer Field After Life-Saving Heart Transplant

December 27th, 2016

“Joe Mansaray said that not a day passes without him wondering whose heart beats inside his chest.” – PennLive [Read full article here.]

After Joe Mansaray received the gift of a life-saving heart transplant, he said he began to feel like a teenager again.  The high school senior and soccer star had to give up sports and much more as he relied on an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to keep him alive through months of testing and medical appointments while waiting for a heart to become available.

Joe was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy after his sophomore year of high school.  This same disease also affected his mother, who received a heart transplant, but then passed away due to complications.  Just three months later, Joe had his transplant.

“I was really scared,” he told Gift of Life staff at our annual Thanks for Giving event.

Joe’s recovery took a lot of time and hard work, but throughout it all he focused on his goal of returning to the soccer field. Just prior to the start of his senior year, he was cleared to play, and he quickly got back his starting position and nickname of “the Blur.” He continues to do well and plans to attend college next fall.

“I’m very grateful,” he said.

Hope for the Holidays: New Holiday Traditions for Grieving Families

December 19th, 2016

As the holidays approach, you might find yourself just wishing you could avoid them completely and wake up once they were all over. The anticipation of the holidays can be nearly as stressful as the actual day itself. After the death of a loved one, your holidays will never be the same. Some families have found that creating new traditions which incorporate their loved one has helped them find joy once again in the holiday season. Below are some ideas that you could include this year:

Food:  Did your loved one have a favorite meal or dish? Making (or buying) a favorite side dish or dessert can be one way to include your loved one in your holiday meals. Or you could go to their favorite restaurant as a family.

Candle lighting: Candles are often used during the holidays. This year, try lighting a candle in memory of your loved one.  You can say a special blessing or poem if you want.  Or you and your family can try this special candle lighting ceremony and together you can remember your loved one (Link:

A special place: Was there a street in your neighborhood where your loved one always liked the outside decorations? Is there a park your loved one liked to spend time in? Go to these locations as a family as part of your holiday time together. Being together in places you associate with your loved one can give you an opportunity to reminisce and share memories. Or, set aside time to visit the cemetery where your family member is buried.

Decorations: Buy an ornament that signifies your loved one and hang it prominently on your tree. Light your loved one’s menorah this year.  Display pictures of your loved one from past holidays.  Hang your loved one’s stocking but instead of filling it with gifts, fill it with pieces of paper filled out by different people with special memories or messages.

It is possible to still find joy during the holiday season and also mourn and miss your loved one. Even though your family member is not with you physically, there are still many ways to ensure that their memory is included in your holiday experience. What new traditions have you started since your loved one died? Your tradition may be just what another family is looking for, so please consider sharing!

DE Woman is Grateful this Holiday Season for Receiving the Gift of Life

December 16th, 2016

At just four years old, Smyrna, DE resident, Cathy Malay, began having intense stomach pain and was diagnosed with an enlarged liver.  Fortunately, she was blessed with a healthy and active childhood despite her liver issues, and managed her condition through diet.

L to R: Christine Lois Klunk- Morey – Mother; Michael Anthony Klunk- Brother; liver recipient Cathy Malay and Sherry Lynn Klunk- Moschella- Sister

In her early 30s, Cathy’s health started to decline and she was faced with the beginning stages of liver failure.  As the disease took hold, her ankles and legs began to swell and she was constantly exhausted.  She continued to work more than 60 hours per week doing surgical scheduling, but was having a hard time staying awake.  She also had difficulty walking due to the water retention in her lower body, and was no longer able to go up the stairs in her home.

Several years later when she was 40, her son, Jason, found her unresponsive in her home and called an ambulance.  Doctors performed a liver biopsy while she was in the hospital and determined that she had cirrhosis of the liver.  She was told that her only hope was to have a liver transplant.  After testing, she was added to the organ transplant waitlist.

As her liver disease progressed, she developed encephalopathy, which caused her to have confusion and disorientation. “I don’t remember many of the conversations that I had with my family during that time because of the encephalopathy,” said Cathy.  “My mom, husband and family were really there for me while I was in the hospital.  It was a very hard time.  I wasn’t able to work and we struggled financially.  Between me not being able to work, the expense of COBRA insurance and everything else, we couldn’t keep up and lost our house.” she said.

After many financial and emotional obstacles, Cathy received the news that she had been desperately waiting for – there was a matching liver for her.  She was so grateful that someone she didn’t even know said “yes” to donation, and that she would be given a second chance at life.  Not everyone in her position has that opportunity.  Currently in the United States, 21 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Cathy knew how fortunate she was.

Her transplant was a success, but she still had a long road to recovery ahead of her.  “It was really tough after the transplant.  I had been in the hospital for a long time.  I was so sick by the time I got my new liver that all of my muscles had atrophied.  I had to learn to walk again and it took months before I got my strength back.  I had lost 40 pounds and had some ups and downs.” she said.

Cathy’s son, Jason and grandson, Jaxson.

Although post-transplant wasn’t easy for Cathy, her health did significantly improve as she healed.  Today, she works as an Administrative Specialist at the Delaware state prison and is able to be active.  She is also a first time grandmother and loves to spend time with her grandson, Jaxson, who is seven.  “I can work a double shift now and still have energy.  My liver transplant has given me my life back.  My husband, Bill, and I can travel now and it’s great.  We go to Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City, MD.  After my transplant, we got two Dachshunds.  I never wanted dogs before my transplant, but now we love them and they are our babies.” said Cathy.

This Christmas, Cathy is looking forward to spending time with her family.  She thinks of her donor and donor’s family every day, but especially during the holiday season.  “I pray for my donor and his family every day.  I don’t know what day my donor’s birthday was, but I celebrate both of our lives each year.  My son and my donor would have been close in age, so every milestone that my son has reached – makes me think of my donor.  Every holiday, every event – my donor is in my thoughts.  Without him, I wouldn’t be here.  He’s my hero.  He may be gone from earth, but he lives on in me.  I’m blessed to be alive.” said Cathy.

She said, “This holiday, I’m really looking forward to seeing my grandson’s face after he opens his Christmas present.  He loves animals and farms, so my husband and I made him a wood, red barn and stable for him to play with his plastic farm animal toys.  There’s a removable roof and windows.  I know that he’s going to love it.”

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation.  For more information or to register, visit  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

The Greatest Gift of All: Local Kidney Recipient is Grateful for Nearly 25 Years with Life-saving Transplant

December 16th, 2016

Villanova, PA resident, Michael Meshkov, is celebrating nearly 25 years with his life-saving kidney transplant. This holiday, Michael, his wife, Jeannine and their two adult children, Bryan and Kristi, will celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas, and will spend quality time together as a family.  Michael wouldn’t be able to spend this meaningful holiday season with his family if it wasn’t for the generosity of his donor’s family, whose decision to say “yes” to organ donation changed Michael’s life forever.

Michael always knew that kidney disease would most likely be a part of his life.  Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), an inherited disorder that often causes kidney failure, plagued his family.  His mother suffered from the disease and had two kidney transplants, and his brother, Arnold, received a kidney after Michael.  His grandmother died from PKD.

Michael was fortunate to have a healthy childhood, and never showed signs of the disease until his mid-30s.  “Because of my family history, I was aware of what that meant for me.  I had my blood pressure taken and it was going up.  I went to a nephrologist and he monitored me, but it continued to increase, my kidney function declined and I was added to the organ transplant waiting list. I knew this would eventually happen to me, but I thought it would be something that I faced in my 50s, not my 30s.” said Michael.

He was officially added to the waitlist on April 17th, a very important date for him.  He got engaged to his wife on April 17th and his son was born on that date as well.  Most individuals who are added to the organ transplant waitlist for a kidney wait years before receiving a second chance at life.  Currently, an average of 21 people die each day in the U.S. while waiting for a transplant.  Michael was one of the lucky ones, and received his kidney transplant just months after being added to the list.

He said, “I was a week away from having to go on dialysis when I got the call about my kidney transplant.  I was always tired, and even if I tried to be active, after about ten minutes I had to sit down.  Even something as simple as taking a shower was exhausting for me.  I would have to sit down to towel off.”  Michael and his wife are both dentists and have their own practice.  “I still took patients during that time, but it was challenging.  I would fall asleep at lunch and was irritable.  I felt like ‘why me?’  I kept my disease private from everyone except my family.  I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy, so I only told my wife and kids.” he said.

Since receiving a kidney transplant, Michael has taken advantage of his increased energy.  He loves to play basketball and volleyball, and has taken several biking trips through Europe with his wife.  “For three summers in a row, we biked through Austria, France and the Netherlands.” Michael said.  “Receiving a kidney has really been a second chance at life for me.  I could resume my life and live like everyone else.  I see a doctor every three months, but that’s really it.  It has been like a rebirth for me.  I know that without my transplant, I’d be on dialysis right now or not here at all.” he said.

Mike competes in volleyball at the annual Donate Life Transplant Games of America.

Michael is also a captain for Team Philadelphia’s basketball team.  Team Philadelphia is a group of recipients and living donors who compete in the Donate Life Transplant Games of America every other summer.  This Olympic-style competition brings together thousands of participants to show that transplantation works.  Michael has won a number of medals in volleyball and basketball as part of Team Philadelphia. He said, “For me, going to the Games has been very healing.  Every medal that I’ve won was presented to me by a donor family, which is amazing.  I feel like the donor families get to heal too because they see that it really is a gift of life and that the recipients are doing great.”

In addition to family time this holiday, the Meshkov’s will continue a yearly tradition that they love – going to New York City to enjoy a Broadway show and dinner.  For years, they have taken their staff to show their appreciation for their hard work, and to have fun and celebrate this special time of year.

Michael’s appreciation for receiving the gift of life is unmistakable.  “To me, the real heroes are the donors and donor families.  They are amazing people to make that kind of decision when they have so much grief.  It’s great to have met so many of these families, and to be able to thank them personally.  They’re incredible people, and without them many of us wouldn’t be here.” he said.

This December, Gift of Life remembers and honors those individuals and families who have made the decision to give the greatest gift of all – the gift of life. Due to the giving spirit of the region, Gift of Life is able to provide hope to the more than 5,600 men, women and children in the region who continue to wait.  You can help by registering today at  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation.  For more information or to register, visit

High School Senior Celebrates 1st Christmas with the Ultimate Gift – a Life-Saving Kidney

December 2nd, 2016

Dallas, PA resident, Andrew Schukraft, was an active 16 year old when his life was changed forever.   He played soccer and tennis from the time he was a child, and had just been named captain of his soccer team.  He was always physically active and felt healthy, never thinking that he would be someone with health issues.

He wenandrew-st in for a routine physical and his blood pressure was high.  The physician suggested that he go to his family doctor and find out what was causing the issue.  After going through testing, he learned that he was in renal failure and his kidneys were only functioning at 5%.  He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy, a kidney disease that occurs when IgA, a protein made by the immune system to protect the body from foreign substances, builds up and damages the kidneys.  Doctors told him that he would need a kidney transplant, and he was in shock.

Andrew had only noticed slight changes in his energy levels during this time, but nothing significant enough to cause concern.  He said, “I never expected that anything like this could happen to me.  I was so upset at first, especially because I knew that I’d probably never play soccer again.  I figured out that complaining and being upset wouldn’t help, so I accepted it and decided to move forward.”

Now 17, Andrew’s insight and strength is beyond his years.  He continued high school and only missed two classes a week for dialysis.  While waiting for a transplant, Andrew was on dialysis three times a week.  He suffered from fatigue and some muscle aches, but was positive and relied on the support of his family and friends who knew how to lift his spirits, make him laugh and help take his mind off of his health.


“When I received the call that there was a matching kidney for me, I had a mixture of fear and excitement.  I never had surgery before.  It all went so quickly and felt like I had blurred vision.  I know my donor was a few years older than me, and he was in a car accident.” he said. Andrew is currently in the process of writing to his donor’s family to thank them for his life-saving gift.  He said, “I have a lot of gratitude to my donor family.  I’m forever thinking about their loss and how they helped me so I can live a better life.  I want them to know that their loss wasn’t all for nothing, and that something good came out of something horrible.  I’m living my life to the best of my ability and am doing well because of them.”

Andrew was only in the hospital for five days post-transplant and went back to school after just two weeks.  Luckily, his transplant happened during his winter break, so he didn’t miss any school.  One month post-transplant, he began playing tennis again.  He said, “I really pushed myself after the transplant because I wanted to go back to school.  I have a lot more energy now and can do whatever I need to.  I’m also able to eat whatever I want.  After being on a restrictive diet, I came home and ate so much chocolate.”


This is the first Christmas that Andrew will have his new kidney and he’s looking forward to having energy, enjoying time with his cousins and being active.  “We usually run around and play tennis.” he said.  Andrew is also looking forward to spending the holiday with his family, exchanging gifts and indulging in ham and french toast at his grandmother’s house.

Thanks to the generosity of his life-saving kidney donor, Andrew can look confidently towards his future.  He applied to several colleges and is excited to find out where he has been accepted to.  Today, he gives back by sharing his story at local high schools and universities – encouraging people to register as organ and tissue donors.  He said, “I think a lot of people just aren’t familiar with organ donation.  It’s foreign to them, and they may be fearful of the unknown.”

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation.  For more information or to register, visit  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Cherry Hill, NJ Resident Reaches 200,000 Students with Life-Saving Message

November 22nd, 2016


Twenty-nine years ago, Tom and Vivian Gano’s lives were changed forever.  Their teenage son, Curtis, 16, was riding his bike to a friend’s house when he was struck by a van.  When doctors confirmed that Curtis was brain dead, Vivian looked beyond her pain and asked about the potential for him to be an organ donor.  The family had watched a documentary about organ and tissue donation several years earlier, which inspired her to ask.

In the darkest time of their lives, Tom and Vivian said “yes” to organ and tissue donation, and prayed that this heartbreaking event could have something positive come out of it.  Tom said, “For me, I never wanted anyone else to feel how I did when Curtis died. I wanted to save as many people as possible.  We prayed for a miracle that Curtis would be okay, but when we knew that wasn’t going to happen, we prayed that he could be a miracle for someone else.”

Curtis was able to be an organ and tissue donor.  He saved four lives through organ donation and benefited countless others through tissue donation. His liver was donated for scientific research. “I’m 75 and I will never have the legacy that Curtis did.  He was only 16, but he was able to save lives.  I speak at schools in New Jersey mostly – and sometimes in Pennsylvania and Delaware – to share our story.  It makes me happy to talk about Curtis and for kids to know who he is.  I always pass around a picture of him. So many people know his name and have seen his picture.” said Tom.


Over the past two decades, Tom has educated 200,000 students about organ and tissue donation.  He reached this exciting achievement in November 2016, and he is proud that his message has been heard and accepted by so many young people.  “I’ve met many teenagers who said that they registered to be an organ and tissue donor after hearing me speak.  It makes me feel good to know that I’m making an impact.  When I talk to them, they are interested in what I’m saying.  It’s refreshing to see how open they are.”

Tom has found comfort in knowing that his son’s legacy is one of compassion and caring, and it’s his life’s mission to reach as many people as he can to promote donation.  “It has been great to volunteer with Gift of Life and meet organ transplant recipients.  To see how grateful they are, and how much healthier they are with their transplant.  It really helped me to meet them.” said Tom.

Through reaching out to students and sharing his son’s powerful, life-saving story, Tom has been able to heal. He said, “Talking about Curtis gives me peace.  It helps me keep his memory alive and also save lives.  I am going to continue pushing to get into more schools to educate students. Sometimes I work 50-60 hours a week, speaking and traveling.  I have no plans of slowing down.  I’ve had teachers go online while I’m there and register.  It’s really rewarding when they come up to me and let me know they registered because of hearing me talk about Curtis.”

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation.  For more information or to register, visit  It only takes 30 seconds to register.


© Gift of Life Donor Program, 401 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123
    800-DONORS-1 / 800-KIDNEY-1

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