Honoring the memory of Tommy Burley

December 18th, 2014

Kathy’s Story

Kathy Forti

Kathy Forti

As a single mother of three, Kathy Forti had a particularly close relationship with her eldest son, Tommy Burley. She taught him to play baseball at a young age, supported him at one sporting event after another and stood by his side when he was nominated to be in the Little League Baseball Hall of Fame. An “old soul,” Tommy would discuss life’s greatest mysteries with his mother for hours on end – even at the tender age of six.

When Tommy was only 11, Kathy was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that can cause progressive muscle weakness, and was later diagnosed with yet another chronic autoimmune disease, lupus. Kathy struggled with these conditions as Tommy became a teenager, and he helped to care for his ailing mother with compassion and maturity well beyond his years.

Thomas Burley

Thomas Burley

Tommy was 14 years old when Kathy married her “Prince Charming” in 2007. She then became the stepmother of two more children, which made her a grandmother, as well. As a new family, they all grew together.

“She is the one who I always go to for advice, the one that comforts me when I’m sick or sad,” explained a 17-year-old Tommy in a letter he wrote in 2010. “All I could do is what she did for me. I tell her it will all be okay, and she’s been taking it like a champ every day.”

When it came time to learn to drive, Kathy sat Tommy down to discuss organ and tissue donation. As she initiated the conversation, much to Kathy’s surprise, Tommy declared he understood and had already made the decision to register as an organ and tissue donor – conversation over.

An accomplished high school athlete, Tommy dreamed of one day becoming a firefighter and a police officer. He went on to join the U.S. Air Force Reserves as a member of the Air Force Security Forces and become a volunteer firefighter with the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Company, all by the age of 20.

thomas burley fireman

Thomas Burley

Then on June 18, 2013, Tommy’s short, but impactful life came to a sudden end when he was involved in a fatal motorcycle accident on his way home from firefighter training. Grief-stricken, Kathy was unable to face many of the difficult decisions that would follow. But one thing was certain: Tommy would be a donor.

With the love and support of her family, Kathy, 47, Quote from Kathy Forticontinues to heal and honors Tommy’s memory through a memorial blood drive that has touched the lives of hundreds.

“This process has affirmed my support of organ, eye and tissue donation,” said Kathy. “It has been an important part of my healing journey, and I take some comfort knowing that Tommy’s wishes to become a donor were able to be fulfilled. I hope to someday meet those who received Tommy’s gift of eyes and tissue.”



Kathy will be honoring her son’s memory while riding on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena, California. Tune in on New Year’s Day to see the float in the 126th Tournament of Roses Rose Parade. Donate Life’s 2015 Rose Parade float entry inspires the world with The Never-Ending Story of organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation.

The Never-Ending Story

2015 Donate Life Rose Parade Float

Unyts thanks volunteers at year-end event

December 17th, 2014

bingo (8) Unyts celebrated its dedicated volunteers with an appreciation event on Saturday, Dec. 13 at Hamlin House in Buffalo. After having a chance to socialize and enjoy lunch, volunteers played bingo and won specially-prepared gift baskets. Read the rest of this entry »

Holiday Heroes: Joe Baschnagel

December 16th, 2014

HolidayHeroes__TopWebJoe Baschnagel is an active person. He’s well-known as a bagpipe player. He’s a member of the Cambria Volunteer Fire Company. He’s been involved in scouting for decades and designs Boy Scout patches. He’s a Master Gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

All of this is made possible, and in some part inspired, by the heart transplant that Baschnagel received in 2011.

“I think it’s important for the spirit of my donor, to let him know his heart’s not being wasted. I definitely put it in full gear when I got back on my feet, and I’m making the most out of every day,” Baschnagel said.

Joe Baschnagel speaks about the importance of organ donation at the 2013 Holiday Heroes kickoff.

Joe Baschnagel speaks about the importance of organ donation at the 2013 Holiday Heroes kickoff.

Baschnagel, now 62, was diagnosed with a heart problem when he was young, and would sometimes experience palpitations. In the 1980s, he began to take medication to slow his heart. In the late 1990s, he underwent radiofrequency catheter ablation. “They cauterize the electrical pathways through your heart,” Baschnagel explained. “My electrical system wasn’t working right, and that’s what was making my heart beat real fast.”

For about a decade after the procedure, Baschnagel’s heart seemed to be doing well. “Then I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I got an infection… I think it did something to make my heart worse. And then I started to have congestive heart failure.” His body began to hold extra fluid, and his heart rate became irregular. His doctors tried medications and procedures, but Baschnagel’s health problems continued.

Baschnagel’s two sons are doctors. One had done a rotation at Cleveland Clinic and thought it would be best for Baschnagel to go there. In Cleveland, specialists found that Baschnagel’s situation was dire and recommended that he be evaluated for a possible heart transplant. “They told me, ‘If you walk out of here, you’ll be dead.’ ”

After undergoing many tests, he was added to the transplant waiting list. “I never smoked and I was never a big drinker, so my body was in good shape. I wasn’t overweight, I was always a hard worker,” said Baschnagel. “My organs were really great, the only bad thing was my heart, but I was slowly dying.”

Doctors implanted a pacemaker, defibrillator and a mechanical heart pump. “They kept me alive for three months… they were pumping a chemical into me to keep my heart going,” he recalled. “They sent me home after three months waiting … then three days after I got home, I got a call at 5 in the morning to get back to Cleveland, they found a donor.”

Click here to see Dr. Gonzalo Gonzalez-Stawinski start Joe Baschnagel's new heart. Video from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Click here to see Dr. Gonzalo Gonzalez-Stawinski start Joe Baschnagel’s new heart. Video from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer was working on a series covering the Cleveland Clinic, and not only interviewed Baschnagel but filmed his transplant surgery. The video was posted online. “It’s kind of weird because everyone in the world could see my operation.” At first Baschnagel didn’t think he’d want to see footage of the surgery, but he eventually decided to check it out. “I ended up watching it, it was pretty interesting,” he said.

“August 22 was my second birthday, when I received my new heart,” Baschnagel said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blood donation becomes personal for Legislator Kevin Hardwick

December 10th, 2014
Kevin Hardwick gives blood on Dec. 1.

Kevin Hardwick gives blood on Dec. 1.

Erie County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick has given blood in the past – he’s even partnered with Unyts on blood drives – but recently the issue of blood donation became more personal.

“My dad was diagnosed a little over a month ago with acute myeloid leukemia,” Hardwick said. “The day after Thanksgiving I was with him in Binghamton, in a hospital there, and watched him get transfused with platelets.”

Hardwick said his father’s cancer is incurable, but that his oncologist is hopeful that chemotherapy and other treatments will give him another year or two with a decent quality of life. The elder Hardwick has received several transfusions, and urged his children to give blood and help others. “He made us promise that we would donate. I hadn’t donated in 2-3 years… seeing what it has meant for him – it is literally lifesaving.”

Unyts’ Tonawanda Neighborhood Blood Donation Center is located at 96 Niagara St.

Unyts’ Tonawanda Neighborhood Blood Donation Center is located at 96 Niagara St.

Legislator Hardwick sponsored a blood drive at Unyts’ Tonawanda Neighborhood Blood Donation Center (96 Niagara St.) on Dec. 1, and also donated blood himself that day. “This is not blood that will go to my father, but he wanted us to do it,” Hardwick said. “He knows what it has meant to him and he wants us to help other people. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing anyway.”

Having gone through the donation process again, Hardwick resolved not to wait as long before his next donation. “I’m feeling a little self-conscious about not doing it more often; that’s definitely going to change now,” he said.

Hardwick gave whole blood, but was also interested in platelet donation. Unyts’ four Neighborhood Blood Donation Centers have platelet pheresis machines which collect a donor’s platelets and return other blood components, such as red blood cells and plasma, to the donor.

After donation, the body replaces lost platelets within 24-48 hours. At Unyts, platelets can be donated every 14 days. Donors who give whole blood may donate platelets 56 days after a whole blood donation. Platelet donation typically takes 30-45 minutes longer than whole blood donation.

Platelets are essential for normal blood clotting and are used in the treatment of serious illnesses, including cancer, leukemia and aplastic anemia. Platelets are also used to help heart and transplant surgery patients. Platelets must be transfused within five days, so the need for donors is constant.

Hardwick expressed his gratitude to all of those who give blood. “It is wonderful what you do; I’ve seen the other end of it.”

Advance appointments are required for platelet donations. To become a platelet donor, contact Barbara Vidal-Engaurran at 716-512-7993. Click here to make a whole blood donation appointment.

Bills fans give blood to help local patients

December 4th, 2014
Bruce Urban

Donor Bruce Urban shows his team spirit.

Hundreds of Buffalo Bills fans came out to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 2 to give blood and take a behind-the-scenes stadium tour. A total of 263 donors came to the Paul Maguire Club, and Unyts collected 234 units of blood at the stadium that day alone.

Many who couldn’t come to the stadium that day but wanted to be part of the Bills drive gave at Unyts Neighborhood Blood Donation Centers between Nov. 29 and Dec. 4.

The first 500 presenting donors received a “One Buffalo” t-shirt courtesy of the Buffalo Bills. All donors who made and kept an appointment were be entered to win a pair of tickets to the Buffalo Bills vs. Green Bay game on Dec. 14. The 100 winners are being personally notified, and their names are also being posted on the Unyts Facebook page.

In the evening, fans had a chance to meet Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills, who working with Unyts to let people know about the importance of giving blood and joining the New York State Donate Life Registry. Williams posed for photos and autographed items for fans.

Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure donates blood to help local patients.

Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure donates blood to help local patients.

Drive attendees had the opportunity to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Unyts also partnered with Be The Match for the dive, providing a table at which potential marrow donors could see if they are a match for a patient in need.

The Buffalo Bills drive also saw the kick-off for Team Unyts, a new program to recognize fans who give blood at multiple sports drives. These fans will have the opportunity to earn special perks at upcoming events. Keep an eye on Unyts’ website and social media for more information on Team Unyts in the coming months.

The next professional sports drive will be with the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 16 at the First Niagara Center.

Aaron Williams signs a One Buffalo shirt for a fan.

Aaron Williams signs a One Buffalo shirt for a fan.

Fans on the stadium tour check out the Bills' game day locker room.

Fans on the stadium tour check out the Bills’ game day locker room.

During the tour a Bills fan poses at the podium in the press conference room.

During the tour, a Bills fan poses at the podium in the press conference room.

Blood donors check out the view from the 50 yard line.

Blood donors check out the view from the 50 yard line.

Honoring Our Heroes: Jim Bonnar

December 1st, 2014


James and Mary Ellen Bonnar

James M. Bonnar became an eye donor upon his passing on July 25, 2004. Mr. Bonnar was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, and later moved to the United States, earning a degree at Buffalo State College and working at Multisorb Technologies and at Adelphia.

This remembrance was shared by his wife, Mary Ellen Bonnar.

My husband Jim was such a wonderful son, husband, father and friend. Although we never had that conversation about organ donation, I knew that is what he would have wanted. He was a young, healthy and handsome man. The only good that came out of his sudden and untimely death was knowing that others would get a chance to see and do things they couldn’t have done otherwise. Jim would have wanted that.

My Jim was one of the nicest people you could ever have met. He so loved his family more than anything else in the world. He cherished our baby boy, who was 1 at the time and is 11 today and doted on him always. He would do anything for his family and was a loving and caring person. The hardest thing for me is that our son would have to grow up without his father. I know that Jim is with us in spirit and is guiding us always.

Jim Bonnar was a a longtime season-ticket-holder for the Buffalo Bills.

Jim Bonnar was a a longtime season-ticket-holder for the Buffalo Bills.

Jim and I shared a birthday. We met on our birthday so that is a very special day for me. On his birthday and anniversary of his passing, I donate blood in his memory and honor. I want to do something good because he was such a good person. I want to pay it forward, so to speak. If there is one thing I learned from losing my husband, it is that people are basically good and in the face of tragedy people are there for you when you need it most. I couldn’t have survived without the help of my awesome family.


Jim Bonnar’s son Jamie, now 11, says he got his love of hockey from his dad.

Jim was a huge Bills fan! He was a season ticket holder for over 10 years and he went to one of the Super Bowls as well. He loved football, golf and hockey. I don’t know, however, if he would be too happy that his son is a Bruins fan and not a Bills fan!

The grief of losing my best friend and partner in life never goes away. I have just learned to cope as time goes on. I know that is what he would have wanted. I am a better person for having known him.

Bonnar more


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.


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.



Collins answers the call for donors after snowstorm

December 1st, 2014

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.

Erin Collins

Erin Collins1After lake effect snow from “Winter Storm Knife” buried much of Western New York and disrupted collections, Unyts put out a call for blood donors. Erin Collins was among the many people who gave and helped meet a critical need.

“So many people carried out acts of kindness during that storm, helping neighbors and complete strangers alike. The least I could do was donate blood,” Erin said.

Erin lives in one of the areas hit hard by the storm, and had been stuck at home from the night of Nov. 17th until the morning of the 20th. “The snow was so high, it blocked the door and it took my landlord that long to dig me out. It then took another two days to dig out the rest of the driveway to get to the street and my car.”

On Nov. 24, she read on Twitter about the emergency need for donors. Erin has given blood for several years, and she headed to the Eastern Hills Mall Blood Donation Center to give again.

Asked what she’d tell people considering donation, Erin said, “What are you waiting for?! It’s a very helpful way to give back to those in need.”

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:


Western New Yorkers give blood after storm to help neighbors in need

November 25th, 2014
A Sabres fan gives blood at Eastern Hills Mall on Nov. 24.

A Sabres fan gives blood at Eastern Hills Mall on Nov. 24.

The Buffalo region once again earned the moniker “The City of Good Neighbors” as residents came forward to donate blood in the days following November’s massive snowstorm. We encourage people to continue to donate at Unyts fixed sites throughout the week.

The storm had forced Unyts to cancel several blood drives between Nov. 18-20 and to close blood collection centers as well. Such disruptions can problems with the supply of blood to hospitals, as the need continues and blood products have a limited shelf life. Platelets can only be stored for five days and are often needed for cancer patients and victims of traumatic injuries.

Bills Facebook3On Friday, Nov. 21, Unyts put out a call for donors. We were looking for people to give blood to help insure an adequate supply of blood products for local hospitals. That call was shared by many Unyts partners in the community, including individual Unyts supporters, the Buffalo Bills, One Buffalo, Terror Technologies, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, the Ali’s Rally Foundation and many others.

The Buffalo Sabres sprang into action by supporting Unyts’ Nov. 24 blood drive at Eastern Hills Mall. The Sabres provided free game tickets for donors and helped spread the word about the need for people to give blood. Sabres players also visited the drive. (All donors who gave at the Tonawanda and Southgate sites but couldn’t take tickets at the time can pick them up at our office at 110 Broadway, Buffalo, on Nov. 25 between 12-4 and Nov. 26 between 8-12.)

People from all over Western New York responded to the call, giving blood to help local patients in local hospitals. Unyts had more than 260 presenting donors on Nov. 24 alone, including many first-time donors.

Unyts is truly grateful to all of those who gave blood, and appreciates the help of everyone who spread the word about the need for blood.


Critical Need for Blood Following Storm

November 21st, 2014

Unyts urges WNY to donate blood for local patients in local hospitals


After being forced to cancel blood drives this week due to the storm, Unyts is urging the community to donate blood TODAY. Demand at our local hospitals has increased and a strong turnout by donors is critical to ensure we have blood available for patients in the WNY community.


Unyts is the primary supplier of blood products to Kaleida Health, ECMC and all hospitals in Niagara and Wyoming Counties. The real need for blood came into play last night when 3 year old Leukemia patient Kallie Swan had to be transported by Wings Flights of Hope to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for a platelet transfusion (see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kallies-Krusade/267365016721998 ). Kallie and her family live in Jamestown and were unable to make it to the hospital alone due to the storm.  While Unyts is thrilled that we were able to provide the blood needed to help Kallie and other patients, the supply has to be continually replenished. As WNY’s only community blood bank it is our responsibility to answer the call for blood products to ANY hospital in need, but we will need help from blood donors to do that. As local residents are able to return to their normal activities following the storm, Unyts encourages eligible donors to give blood. “O negative” donors and platelet donors are especially encouraged to give.


To make an appointment, call 512-7940 or visit www.unyts.org and click on Give Blood.

Drives for TODAY- November 21,2014


Eastern Hills Mall Donation Center
4545 Transit Road
Williamsville, NY

- Make an Appointment

Medlab, Inc.
600 Cayuga Rd
Cheektowaga, NY

Drives for TOMORROW – November 22, 2014


Eastern Hills Mall Donation Center
4545 Transit Road
Williamsville, NY

- Make an Appointment

Tonawanda Donation Center
96 Niagara Street
Tonawanda, NY

- Make an Appointment

Erie County Auto Bureau
2122 George Urban Blvd.
Depew, NY

- Make an Appointment

Drives for MONDAY, November 24, 2014


Eastern Hills Mall Donation Center
4545 Transit Road
Williamsville, NY  14221

Southgate Plaza Donation Center
1000 Union Road
West Seneca, NY  14224

Tonawanda Donation Center
96 Niagara Street
Tonawanda, NY  14150

Drives for TUESDAY, November 25, 2014


Tonawanda Donation Center
96 Niagara Street
Tonawanda, NY

Unyts Donation Center
110 Broadway
Buffalo, NY

Walk-ins welcome!

Unyts’ work continues despite the storm

November 20th, 2014
A snowcovered street in South Buffalo the morning of Nov. 20.

A snow-covered street in South Buffalo the morning of Nov. 20.

As snow continued to make travel impossible in parts of Western New York, Unyts closed the blood donation center at Southgate Plaza on Wednesday and the Tonawanda Neighborhood Blood Donation Center today (Nov. 20). However, our work as Western New York’s only organ, eye, tissue and community blood center never stops.

Our operations continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Even in inclement weather conditions, Unyts never completely closes.

The need for blood is constant. Once the storm clears and it is safe to travel, you can make an appointment to donate through our website or by calling 716-512-7940.


Below are a few photos showing some of the effect of the storm on South Buffalo.

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