Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaims April as Donate Life Month

April 23rd, 2015

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proclaimed April as Donate Life Month across New York State.

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Today the Governor’s Regional Representative for WNY, Adam Sassone, visited Unyts to present the organization with the proclamation. The document highlights the need for organ donors in the state and the importance of enrolling on the Donate Life Registry.

Unyts spearheaded this initiative out of Governor Cuomo’s office for Donate Life Month in the hopes of bringing attention to the public health crisis that surrounds donation and transplantation. There are close to 124,000 people waiting for a transplant in the United States, 10% of whom live in New York.

 

 

“Blood is very much needed, and I have yet to see blood sold at Wal-Mart!”

April 8th, 2015

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Whether you once needed someone’s blood or you’re just a giving person, we want our blood donors to know how much they’re appreciated. That’s what “Share Your Story” is all about, and we’re highlighting a different donor, recipient or supporter each month.

Carol Wittman

Carol Wittman never thought that her family would be touched by organ donation until her husband’s liver began to fail eight years ago. After seeing how many blood transfusions her husband needed to survive, she realized just how important blood donation is.

“It really hit home when I realized how many people had to donate to save my husbands life,” Carol said. “I felt almost obligated to start donating blood after we went through this. I really should have donated before, too, but I needed this wake-up call to really understand how important blood donation is.”

Carol Wittman

Carol Wittman

Carol and her husband, who recently celebrated the 8th anniversary of his liver transplant, always thank others for donating when they go to blood drives together. “We want people to understand what their donation means to people like us,” she explained.

Both blood donation and organ donation have become very important parts of Carol’s life. “I wear a Donate Life bracelet all the time, and it always reminds me that someone somewhere is undergoing a blood transfusion or organ transplant,” she said. “We also keep all the doctors and families involved in these procedures in our hearts at church. We don’t know who donated my husband’s liver, but we think of them and their family every day.”

Carol has some words of advice for people thinking about donating blood for the first time, too. “Take someone with you in case you feel woozy after donating,” she said. “And take the time to talk to other people who are giving blood to hear their stories. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to donate! Giving blood takes no time at all, you can do it at any age, and your donation is welcome no matter what blood type you have. Blood is very much needed, and I have yet to see blood sold at Wal-Mart!”

It’s easy to become an organ, tissue or blood donor! Click here to find out how to become an organ and tissue donor, and click here for a list of our community blood donation centers.

If you have been touched by the Gift of Life through blood donation, or donate for a reason you feel passionate about, we’d love for you to:

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Honoring Our Heroes: Travis J. Hilton

April 1st, 2015

Travis J. Hilton

Travis J. Hilton

Travis J. Hilton became an eye and tissue donor upon his passing on November 10, 2012.

His mother, Jana Hoffman, shared this remembrance:

An amazing young man came into my life in 1992 – my son Travis. Sadly we only got to spend 20 years with him.

Trav loved camping, excelled at all sports, but soccer was his favorite. His athletic abilities were impressive – he could run up to a wall, jump in the air and do a back flip off of the wall. He was fearless since he was a toddler, jumping off the back of the couch, and in later years cliff diving.

He was an awesome big brother to Joey, who was almost 11 years younger. He had the typical younger sibling relationship with older sister Nicole (five and a half year difference). In the beginning, he always got into her stuff, and she liked to tie him up or stick him in the dryer. As they grew older they had a mutual respect and were very close – their interests became cohesive (same music and sports tastes) and they spent quality time together as often as they could since Nicole lived three hours away over the last 10 years.

Jana with her son Travis.

Jana with her son Travis.

 

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Travis with his brother Joey and sister Nicole.

Trav had many friends, 20 of whom made the 10 hour round trip from the Albany area for the funeral. He was very well liked among the student body of his entire high school. Trav’s love for sports and two inspirational gym teachers lead him to pursue a career as a gym teacher. He grew up in the East Greenbush area and attended Jamestown Community college, like I did. He stayed with his dad while in school and that gave him a chance to reconnect, since he only went to Western New York for vacations. My mother, who’s from Jamestown, visited him there a few months before his death, and saw how passionate he had become with respect to one of his classes. She was glad to see that he seemed happy (he had been homesick the previous school year). He had a job at my aunt’s print shop, he had a car, he was doing well in school, his future was coming together nicely.

Now most of his friends have graduated college, and some even have children of their own. I think of all the things he’s NOT going to get to do (graduate college, get married, give me grandchildren). But in a way, with his donation, all the people he helped are doing that on behalf of him.

 

 

Thoughts from Dad

Travis J. Hilton
March 5, 1992 – November 10, 2012

“That dash represents all the time that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.”

My name is Kevin Hilton and I am Travis’ father. Travis’ mother and I separated when Travis was only 1 ½ years old. Although we weren’t together, we both loved Travis very much. My family consists of myself; my wife, Michelle, who has been with me since Travis was 2 ½ years old; his sister, Jillian, who was two years older than Travis; and his brother, James, who was 4 years younger. I also have seven brothers and sisters so Travis was loved by many aunts, uncles and cousins. He was also very close to Michelle’s family who loved him as their own. Michelle’s mother and step-father were always taking all the grandchildren on vacations and adventures and he loved them. He also loved his aunt and cousins on Michelle’s side.

James, Michelle, Eric, Jillian, Kevin and Travis (left to right) in 2012.

James, Michelle, Eric, Jillian, Kevin and Travis (left to right) in 2012.

When Travis was young he played the baritone in his school band and that greatly influenced James to play the baritone when he joined the school band. He also played soccer and basketball. As he grew older, he loved watching the NCAA March Madness games and the FIFA World Cup. He had quite the collection of international soccer jerseys.

Travis would spend his school breaks and summer vacations with us and he always enjoyed camping, riding four-wheelers in the woods behind our house and waterskiing on Chautauqua Lake. When the kids were young we would take a week every summer and go to Six Flags Darien Lake amusement park for a couple days and then we would pack up and go to Letchworth State Park for a couple days. Oh, the good old days. As the kids grew older we enjoyed vacations in Florida and the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

James, Travis and Jillian.

James, Travis and Jillian.

Travis, even as a toddler, was always fearless and a daredevil. As a teen he learned to run up the side of a tree or wall and do a flip. When we arrived in Florida, he immediately ran up the side of a palm tree and flipped! We installed a pool at our house in 2012 and told the installers that the pool could not be too close to our house or the gardening shed in the back yard because we were sure that Travis would jump off the roof and do flips into the pool. He still did flips into the pool, just not from a roof.

He also had the best sense of humor. He was quick with a joke. He would go to school dressed in a yellow banana suit or sombrero for a laugh. He had many friends both here in Jamestown and in Albany where he lived with his mother. He will always be remembered as a good friend.

His favorite band was Bayside. His sister, Nicole, on his mother’s side, is friends with members of the band. He also loved to see the Warped Tour at Darien Lake each summer with his sister Jill. They were quite young when they started to attend that concert tour, so I would take them and hang out at the car in the parking lot until they were done. When James got older, the two of us would ride the rides until Jill and Travis were done. Because, of course, they didn’t want their dad following them around the concert! His love of music also fostered his love of tattoos. I now wish I would have taken pictures of all of them.

After graduating from high school, Travis came to live with us while attending Jamestown Community College. We were so happy to have him living with us. He was studying physical education and wanted to be a gym teacher. He loved children and would have been a great teacher. He played on their intramural basketball team and he was in his second year at JCC. Travis and James were always playing basketball in the driveway with friends. He planned to go on to further his education to become a phys. ed. teacher.

Unfortunately, as Travis grew older, he also liked to drink. He was the life of the party with his friends. Binge drinking was a problem with Travis. He felt he needed to drink as much as he could as fast as he could. On the day that Travis died, he had gotten his hands on a full-sized bottle of whiskey. We found out later that he drank the whole bottle of whiskey, by himself, in under an hour. His BAC was .39% and his heart just couldn’t take it. It was the worst day of our lives when the ER doctor said, “Mr. Hilton, we’re very sorry…” He was just a 20-year-old kid who made a dumb mistake. He didn’t realize how dangerous it was. Both sides of Travis’ family are now working to spread awareness on the dangers of binge drinking among teens and young adults. The kids and I lost our best friend and we love and miss him so much.

A selfie taken by Travis the morning before his death.

A selfie taken by Travis the morning before his death.

March 5th would have been Travis’ 23rd birthday. It was a day of great sadness when you think about all that Travis will miss. He’ll never get married or have children and grandchildren of his own. Jill had a beautiful daughter, Harper, one month after Travis died. He was really looking forward to being an uncle to Harper. Jill is now getting married to Harper’s father, Eric, this summer and Travis won’t be here for his sister. I also have an older son, John, who is 33 years old. I hadn’t seen or talked to John in over 30 years until he called me this last summer wanting to reconnect with me and my family. John is a Texas State Trooper with a beautiful wife and two step-children. They plan to be here this summer for Jill’s wedding. We talk often and we can’t wait to meet them. It is sad that Travis will never meet his older brother. But, I do believe that Travis does watch over us and he has met Harper, he will be at Jill’s wedding and he’s happy that I now have my son John back in my life. He’ll continue to watch over us.

Travis was a great young man who was funny, caring, thoughtful and loving. Travis would help anyone in need and he continued his caring and giving generosity in his final gift as an organ, tissue and eye donor to help others through Unyts. To date, his donations have helped 71 individuals in Western New York live a better life. It is an honor to have Travis recognized as the Unyts April “Hero the Month” and we urge people to register as an organ donor this National Donate Life Month.

Each month, Unyts pays tribute to organ, eye and tissue donors. It seemed fitting to call this feature “Honoring our Heroes” as these donors are heroes to their families and to the people who have received transplants.

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If you would like to nominate a loved one who gave the gift of life, please click the button above. Unyts will contact you when your loved one is chosen for the Hero of the Month.

 

 

Celebrate National Donate Life Month with Unyts this April!

March 24th, 2015

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Established in 2003 and recognized throughout the United States, National Donate Life Month works to raise awareness of organ, eye, tissue and blood donation while celebrating the generosity of those who have given the Gift of Life to others.

Here are a few important facts to consider:

Nearly 124,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for an organ transplant.
More than 1,000 of them are 10 years old or younger.

On average, 150 people are added to the nation’s organ transplant waiting list each day—one every 10 minutes.

Nearly 58% of patients awaiting lifesaving transplants are minorities.

Sadly, on average, 21 people die each day because the organs they need are not donated in time.

Each year, there are approximately 30,000 tissue donors and more than 1 million tissue transplants performed; but the surgical need for tissue continues to rise.

One in seven people entering a hospital need blood.

37% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood. Only 10% do annually.

If you are interesting in helping to save and enhance lives through organ, eye, tissue and blood donation, please visit www.unyts.org or look for Unyts at one of these events in April-

Donate Life Month campaign every Friday in April in the lobby of ECMC

Buffalo General Medical Center Blood and Registry Drive, April 7th

Blue & Green Day, April 17th

Donate Life Memorial Garden Planting at Delaware Park, April 18th

Unyts Bucket List Bash, April 24th

Buffalo Bandits Blood Drive, April 25th

Picture Yourself on the BNMC event, April 25th

Dear Donor Family…

March 11th, 2015

A sincere letter to a Donor Family from the family of a cornea recipient – an 8 week old baby. 

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“I donate in honor of my mom, grandma, and aunt. I donate because I can.”

March 5th, 2015

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Whether you once needed someone’s blood or you’re just a giving person, we want our blood donors to know how much they’re appreciated. That’s what “Share Your Story” is all about, and we’re highlighting a different donor, recipient or supporter each month.

 

Kelly Hooven

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Curiosity is what began my involvement with donating blood to Unyts. I first found out about Unyts during my senior year of high school through the Donate Life program. However, donating blood was the furthest thing from my mind as I have always had a huge fear of needles. Instead, I signed up to be an organ donor when I turned 18. A couple of years later I saw a flyer for an upcoming drive at my work. It was my curiosity to find out my blood type that finally made me take the plunge and donate blood.

That first time, I found out my hemoglobin levels were too low to donate. That didn’t deter me because I was on a mission to donate. The Unyts staff was so friendly and relaxing that I decided to go to their next mobile location to donate. They calmed my fear of needles and made it as painless as possible. When it was over, I left happy, knowing that the blood I just donated could help save the lives of up to 3 people in WNY. Now I donate whenever I am able, even though my fear of needles remains. I enjoy traveling to Unyts different mobile sites to donate whether it is by work, school, my house or just somewhere because I feel like it. No matter where I go, the people are friendly, calming, and can even hold a good conversation too.kelly2

Though the curiosity has disappeared, I still donate. I donate because there are people in need and I know I can help make a difference. I donate in honor of my mom, grandma, and aunt: all of whom have had cancer. I donate because I enjoy interacting with people who are passionate about saving lives. I hope that I will never need a blood transfusion, but I know that life is unpredictable, so I donate in the hopes that I can encourage others to do the same. I donate because I can.

 

For more information about becoming a blood donor and a list of our Neighborhood Blood Donation Centers, please visit this page.

If you have been touched by the Gift of Life through blood donation, or donate for a reason you feel passionate about, we’d love for you to:ShareYourStory_Button

Honoring Our Heroes: Frederick Garrasi III

March 1st, 2015

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Frederick Garrasi III became an eye donor upon his passing on May 3, 2013.

This remembrance was shared by his parents, Fred and Renee.

Freddy was a proud big brother, the oldest of three children. While of course he and his sisters had the typical sibling fights and rivalries, they were incredibly close and the best of friends. Freddy would do anything for his family and friends.

He grew up in a family that taught him the importance of kindness and compassion. Freddy carried those traits of kindness and compassion into his work at Claddagh Commission, Inc, working in group homes for the developmentally disabled. The individuals that Freddy worked with grew to love him as family, as no matter what their ability level, they were able to sense his love and compassionate understanding for all people.

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While working for Claddagh Commission, Freddy pursued his dream of becoming a police officer. At only 23 years old, Freddy became a full-time police officer for the Evans Police Department, realizing a long time dream. In his short career as a police officer, Freddy was recognized as a strength to the department, and commended for his compassionate completion of his police duties.

Garrasi-soccerOutside of work, Freddy’s passions involved athletic thrill seeking. He loved soccer and physical fitness. He took sixth place in the men’s decathlon his first year of college, having never competed in many of the events before. He also loved his motorcycle. Freddy also obtained the honor of being an Eagle Scout.

Freddy was a fun loving guy, and could easily be described as the life of every party. He was a loyal friend, and was always there for his family and friends whenever he said he would be. He was someone people could turn to at any time, and was really there for those that needed him. After he passed away, many people described Freddy as their “best friend” and that is because he truly treated everyone with the love and respect of a best friend. He really made everyone feel as though they were important to him.

Freddy could also be described as a goofball, always ready to lighten the mood with a joke or some silly antics. Of course he was serious when he needed to be, but he never failed to bring a smile to someone’s face when he could.

His kindness and his giving nature were not limited to his friends and family. As a teenager, Freddy sponsored children from Compassion International, for schooling, food and medical expenses.

The Frederick Garrasi III Memorial Fund has been established to provide two scholarships in Freddy’s honor to graduates of Lake Shore High School, which Freddy attended. One scholarship is awarded to a student pursuing Freddy’s passion of law enforcement. The other, the Compassionate Mentor award, is given to a student who exhibits Freddy’s traits of kindness and compassion for others, and makes an impact in the local community with those traits.

In honor of Freddy, Nick Charlap’s ice cream stand of Angola has named his favorite sundae after him, called the “Freddy Rocks.” With each purchase of a “Freddy Rocks” sundae, a portion of the profit goes toward the scholarship fund in memory of him.

Not only did Fred love soccer, swimming and diving, he loved track and field. Therefore, we hold an annual 5K run in his memory. All proceeds made at this event also go into the Scholarship Fund at Lake Shore High School. In the town of Evans on Route 5, we’ve adopted a highway in his name.

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Each month, Unyts pays tribute to organ, eye and tissue donors. It seemed fitting to call this feature “Honoring our Heroes” as these donors are heroes to their families and to the people who have received transplants.

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If you would like to nominate a loved one who gave the gift of life, please click the button above. Unyts will contact you when your loved one is chosen for the Hero of the Month.

 

 

National Eye Donor Month

February 24th, 2015

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Every March, we at Unyts celebrate National Eye Donor Month. During this month, we honor donors and celebrate the gift of sight they give to others. The cornea, the dome-shaped outer layer of the eye, is the most commonly transplanted eye tissue.

Since 1961, more than 1,390,143 men, women, and children ranging in age from nine days to 100+ years, have had their sight restored through corneal transplant. In 2013 alone, there were 48,229 corneal transplants performed in the U.S. Amazingly, over 95 percent of all corneal transplant operations successfully restore the corneal recipient’s vision.

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When Chris Spadafora was a teenager, he was diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative eye disorder that causes the cornea to thin and become cone-shaped. Keratoconus causes vision distortion and sensitivity to light. Chris has worn hard contact lenses since his diagnosis, but even then he has never had 20/20 vision.

Over the past few years, Chris noticed that his symptoms were getting worse. His eyes were so sensitive to light that he had trouble driving at night due to the glare from other drivers’ headlights. It was getting harder to see far away, too. Chris called one of his golfing buddies his “seeing-eye dog” because without his help, he couldn’t see where his ball landed.

When Chris started seeing a new optometrist, he found out that he was a good candidate for a cornea transplant. He didn’t exactly jump at the chance, though. Chris had never had surgery before, and it took some thought to decide that the procedure was worth it to improvehis vision.

Unfortunately, the cornea transplant didn’t work. Despite this huge disappointment, Chris was undeterred. Six months later, he underwent a second cornea transplant and this time it was a success. The second transplant may have been more effective because Chris’ second donor was close to his age. Chris plans to undergo a third transplant in the next few years to improve the vision in his other eye.

If Chris had the chance to talk to the people who donated their corneas to him, he would say, “Thank you so much. The concept of seeing clearly has been totally foreign to me, and it’s miraculous that I might have 20/20 vision in a few years because people like you chose to be donors.”

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Anyone can be an eye donor. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Your blood type does not have to match and it doesn’t matter how old you are, what color your eyes are or how good your eyesight is. Aside from those suffering from infections or a few highly communicable diseases such as HIV or hepatitis, most people are suitable donors.

Would you like to become an organ and tissue donor? It’s easy! Visit this page to find out how.

 

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Unyts Scores Big With the Buffalo Sabres

February 23rd, 2015

Thank you blood donors!

What a successful campaign! The Buffalo Sabres teamed up with Unyts last week for their annual Sabres blood drive, and every donor who made an appointment and kept it received a pair of tickets to an upcoming game. The campaign kicked off on President’s Day at the First Niagara Center where donors stopped by to give blood and enjoy some special activities. Buffalo Sabres fans love their alumni, and Danny Gare, Darryl Shannon and Craig Muni, to name just a few, were on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures. New Era donated exclusive caps for the event, and fans got to enjoy an open practice with the Sabres. The Kid’s Zone kept the little ones busy and Sabretooth even stopped by to play video games and bubble hockey.

The campaign continued throughout the week at our Neighborhood Blood Donation Centers, and in total we had 549 presenting donors. Thanks to everyone who came out to donate and helped to save lives right here in Western New York!

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See more photos from the drive on Facebook.

 

Ali’s Rally 2015

February 20th, 2015

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Thank you to everyone who came out to support the 9th Annual Ali’s Rally Bowling Tournament!

The event, in memory of Alison Gerlach promotes awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation and raises money for Unyts and the Ali’s Rally Foundation.
We had great participation from Unyts Staff, Donate Life Club Schools and the WNY community. It was a huge success!