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 donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds to register.