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April is Donate Life Month

"I was out to dinner with a friend, and he asked how it starts. I told him it all starts with a phone call, and then my phone rang." "It" was the liver transplant that would save Robert "Bo" Garritano's life.

The call Mr. Garritano received that October evening was from the transplant coordinator for the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at UPMC Montefiore, who told Mr. Garritano that he needed to be on standby because there was a stong possibility that an organ might be available for him. He would need to stop eating and begin to prepare for possible surgery. Mr. Garritano received his liver not long after, on October 9, 2007.

Each day, 77 day like Mr. Garritano get organs that give them a second chance at life. Another 19 die each day while waiting for a transplant. April is Donate Life Month, established to celebrate the generosity of those who have saved lives by becoming organ, tissue, marrow or blood donors. UPMC honors the month by encouraging more Americans to follow their example.

Mr. Garritano had been on the transplant waiting list since August 2007, when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. "I had been on an excerise program and had been losing weight when I discovered a lump on my stomach," he says. "I was scared because my father had lung cancer that metastasized on his liver. I didn't want that to be me."

David Geller, MD, at the UPMC Liver Cancer Center, did a CT scan that showed a mass in Mr. Garritano's liver, and a biopsy confirmed that it was cancer that was localized to his liver. It was at that point that Mr. Garritano was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list because he met the medical criteria for a transplant. A donor liver would replace the one that had been removed because of the cancer. This gift from an anonymous donor gave Mr. Garritano his life back.

"As excited as we were by the fact that I was able to get a new liver, it was tempered by the thought that another family was grieving," says Mr. Garritano. "Once you get the gift of life, the greatest thing you can do to honor the person that gave you that life is to go out and live."

Mr. Garritano has been living up to that motto. Since his transplant, Mr. Garritano regularly volunteers at the transplant clinic at UPMC Montefiore and mentors patients who are currently on the transplant waiting list. He also serves on the board of directors of the local chapter of the American Liver Foundation, and is an active member of the Pittsburgh chapter of TRIO.

In addition to his work with the UPMC transplant center, Mr. Garritano works with school-aged children. He serves as the"Safety Fan", a character who wears an oversized cap with a tassel and a Terrible Towel, while promoting school bus safety. Mr. Garritano also works on a consultant basis as an assistant principal for the Kiski Area School District.

"Because of everything that was done for me, by the surgeons, by the hospital, by the whole transplant community, I am able to keep on doing what I love," Mr. Garritano says. "If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be able to be out here keeping up with these kids. For that I am thankful."

To learn more about organ donation, or to become an organ donor visit the Organ Donation Infonet site.

Page updated: April 6th, 2010