When Don DiVito of Boardman was 34, he found himself feeling tired and run down. It was like he had the flu -- everyday.
"I went from being very athletic and energetic to wanting to sleep all the time," he recalls.
An insulin-dependent diabetic since he was 11, Don's kidneys were giving out. Two years later, he was on dialysis. He remained on dialysis for nearly two years.
"Those two years felt like forever," Don lamented. "Just forever."
Just before his 40th birthday, a kidney became available.
On September 22, 1989, Don received a kidney transplant.
More than 12 years later, he still speaks with emotion about his fortune.
"Before my transplant, I had doubts," Don admitted, speaking of the fears he had for his life. "After the transplant, I had no doubts."
He left the hospital, recuperated and has never looked back.
"I watch myself," he said. "But it is not an issue with me."
He marvels at the miracle inside of him.
"I have lived to see two grandsons born," he said smiling, as tears welled up in his eyes. There was a time when he never thought he would. His gratitude is expressed with every word.
Thankful recipients: Every organ transplant recipient feels this same sense of renewed life and thankfulness. This past Saturday, a symbol of their gratitude was unveiled in Cleveland.
The Threads of Life Recipient Quilt is a project initiated by LifeBanc, an organ donation organization located on Chagrin Boulevard, Cleveland.
Organ recipients or family members have been encouraged to make a quilt square, sharing their message of new life.
"It is a chance for recipients who have been given the gift of life, sight or mobility to honor the donor family as well as celebrate the new chance at life they've been given," said Debbie May-Johnson, LifeBanc's executive director.
Don's quilt square sports a lively looking kidney caricature.
He points to his square, "He won the battle ... with his little Band-Aid and his big smile."
Don points to other squares in his picture of the quilt. He knows, personally, many of the individuals represented by the squares.
"Each one is a story," he said, looking at the picture. "A young man made this one in memory of his grandmother," he explained.
I ask about a square with a train on it. He shows me another one with a dinosaur. The wonder of medicine giving young children new life.
Patiently waiting: AnnaMarie Ottney works at the Kidney Transplant Office across from St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown.
Every day she sees the hardships people go through while waiting for a transplant and the renewed sense of life recipients feel.
It is more than a job for AnnaMarie. She has dedicated her life work as memorial to a close friend.
AnnaMarie and her cousin, Richard Hames Jr. , were born just eight months apart. Their lives were as close as their birthdays.
Richard's kidneys began failing in high school.
When he was a junior, he received a kidney.
His struggle and victory had a profound effect on AnnaMarie.
"Someday, that is going to be my goal," she remembered thinking, "to help transplant patients."
Richard went on to graduate from high school and college, marry and father four children.
He died in 1998 with his 20-year-old transplanted kidney still working fine.
Her square: AnnaMarie made a quilt square to honor her cousin's memory. On it, she placed a picture of a smiling Richard, holding a metal he won in the Transplant Olympics in 1994.
She has the same picture on her desk at work.
"When I have a bad day," she explained, "I remember why I'm here."
Right now, 1,338 people in Northeast Ohio are on the national list waiting for an organ transplant.
Perhaps that is why you are here.
XFor more information about the recipient quilt or organ donation, call LifeBanc at (888) 558-5433.