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Stephen's Story: Heart, Liver and Kidney Donor.

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Posted by: 
Margaret Valsechi

Stephen's story was submitted in the words of his proud donor mom, Margaret.

When my son Stephen got his driver's license, he told me that he was a registered organ donor. I didnt say anything except, "that's good." I never thought it would be anything I would ever have to think about again. In 2009, Stephen moved back to Belfast, Northern Ireland to start traveling the world. I had Stephen in 1988 when I was 19 in Belfast, and we both moved to New York in 1987 after I married my wonderful husband Steve, who adopted my son. So at age 24, Stephen was living in Ireland again. He got a job and was sharing an apartment with some friends. He spent a lot of time with our family there and was really enjoying life. He traveled to France with one of his many friends who visited him from NY. 

We would be in touch with each other, and his sisters and I got to spend two wonderful weeks with him and our family at my niece's wedding in July of 2009. We didnt know it at the time but that would be the last we would see of Stephen. On Sunday, October 3rd 2010, Stephen and I talked over Facebook. He told me he was going out with friends that night and had plans for the following weekend to celebrate his 25th birthday that had just passed on October 1st. He went out that night, had a good time with friends and then went back to his apartment.  

 Stephen Valsechi in Ireland

In the early hours of October 4th, Stephen was talking on his phone on the balcony of his apartment and slipped and fell. He was rushed to the nearest hospital, and rushed into surgery to repair a punctured lung. My sister Mary worked on the floor above him and was brought down to see him after his surgery.

I received the phone call every parent dreads they will ever have. My sister Mary called me at 3:30am NY time on October 4th to let me know that Stephen was in the hospital and that we needed to get to Belfast as soon as possible. It was a frantic few hours of trying to book flights, telling family and friends what was going on and begging and pleading with God to spare my son. My youngest daughter was at college upstate and we had to get her to JFK without telling her everything we knew about Stephen. I had talked to the doctors over the phone and they pretty much told me that Stephen was in very poor shape. He had multiple injuries and was not breathing on his own.

Stephen with his mom and sisters

We left NY on the evening of October 4th, hoping and praying that Stephen would still be alive when we landed in Dublin, Ireland.  Our family would drive us the 2 hours to the hospital. 

When we arrived at the hospital we were taken to Stephen. My sister Mary brought us in and it was heartbreaking to see my beautiful son lifeless and hooked up to machines. My two daughters, my boyfriend and I stayed with Stephen until we were asked to leave while the doctors did some tests on him. We were surrounded by family as we all waited and prayed for Stephen. The doctors and nurses were wonderful to us and explained everything so we could understand what was going on. 

Stephen was pronounced brain dead at 3pm on October 5, 2010. Our hearts broke into a million pieces, how would we ever survive, how could we live without this wonderful child in our lives. Knowing he was gone was the worst thing to hear. We sat with him and each and every family member, from my uncle Hugh who is in his 80's, right down to my great nephew Jordan, who was a young teenager, said their goodbyes. While I sat holding Stephens hand a thought came to mind. I imagined a mother in another hospital holding her sons hand and praying for a heart for her child and I knew then that we would fulfill Stephen's wish of being an organ donor. We were approached by staff and asked about organ donation. We didn't hesitate, as this was the final thing we could do for Stephen and it was what he wanted in death. 

Stephen gave the gift of life to four people on October 6, 2010. His kidneys went to a 42 year old woman and a 17 year old girl who both had been on dialysis for 3 years. His liver went to a 40 year old woman, and his heart went to a 24 year old man. We had a wake and mass for Stephen in Belfast in a church right next door to the one where his dad and I were married. (My husband Steve had passed away July 2000). We returned to NY and brought Stephen home with us. We had a wake and buried Stephen in the same cemetery as his dad.

About 4 months after his death, we received our first of many letters from Bobby, who had received Stephen's heart. He thanked us for the wonderful gift that Stephen gave him. We cried every time we read this beautiful letter from Bobby and his fiance Becca. We wrote back right away and continued to do so. Bobby and Becca in one of their letters told us that they were expecting their first baby in October of 2011. So not only did Stephen save a life he was now helping this wonderful couple bring a life into the world. Charlie Stephen was born near the end of October, he is a beautiful baby boy and we as a family are honored that his parents gave him Stephen's name as his middle name. We eventually got to write directly to each other and received pictures of Bobby, Becca and Charlie. Our hearts were filled with love and joy once again. Stephen was living on and helping to change lives.

We knew that Bobby would be participating in the British Transplant games in August of 2012, and my youngest daughter and I were determined to watch him. With the generosity of many organizations, including the New York Organ Donor Network, TRIO, Freeman's Hospital (where Bobby received his transplant) and the Donor Family Network in England, we were able to fly to England to meet Bobby and his family. My daughter Ellen and I were so nervous. We would finally get to see the young man who received Stephen's heart, and if he agreed to it, we would get to hear Stephen's heart beat again. We met Bobby, Becca and Charlie the afternoon we arrived at our hotel. We spent the next 4 hours looking though pictures of Bobby before and after transplant, and pictures of Stephen from when he was little right through to a picture of him the night before he passed away. We spent time learning about each other and playing with Charlie, my beautiful grandson and my daughter's nephew. 

We spent the next few days getting to know each other and meeting Bobby's and Becca's families and watching Bobby participate in the Transplant Games. There are no words to describe what this has done for all of us. No one can take the place of Stephen in our hearts, but Bobby is a family member now and we love and cherish him so much. 

Bobby, Ellen, Margaret holding Charlie, Mary and Becca

Becca, Margaret, Bobby and Ellen

Margaret and Ellen at Bobby and Becca's wedding

It was really hard returning back to America because we didnt know when we would see each other again. We talked every week and Skyped often and enjoyed it all especially seeing Charlie grow. Ellen and I returned to England June 2013 for Bobby's and Becca's wedding. It was wonderful. As I watched him wait at the alter for his bride I thought, "His heart will skip a beat when he sees her" and then I thought, "Stephen's Heart will skip a beat." So it was almost like a part of Stephen was there that day too. We have a wonderful relationship with Bobby, Becca and their family. We are hoping to visit or have them visit this summer, which will be wonderful. 
When my son Stephen died, my heart and that of my family broke into a million pieces. Stephen is missed and loved every day. Organ donation and meeting Bobby has helped with the healing process. So has talking about organ donation and encouraging others to register to become an organ donor. I speak about it when I can and help at organ donor events. It is an honor to continue the work that my son Stephen Valsechi started. I am a proud donor mom.