Health system promotes organ donor program

Kelsey Heneghan

For many, flowers or a new toy is the gift that excites, but for nearly 120,000 in the United States, there is a present that is far more valuable.

For Desiree Maldonado Mitchell, that gift was two corneal transplants for her newborn daughter, Hudson. 

The newest member of the Mitchell family was born with a congenital corneal defect and needed a transplant that was aided by Lions Eye Bank of LI and the Manhattan Eye Bank.

Mitchell, along others impacted by transplants, spoke at the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s annual Gift of Life celebration on Tuesday in Manhasset.

“There are times in everyone’s life when the unexpected happens, and we are asked to rise up to meet the challenge,” said Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, the surgical director at North Shore University Hospital, at the event. “It’s often during these times that we realize that how much strength we have and that we all have he ability to make dreams come true.”

There are nearly 120,000 people in the United States — including around 10,000 in New York State — that are waiting for life-saving transplants. 

Along with urging those in attendance to raise awareness of organ donation, Molmenti introduced Mitchell and two other women who were a part of transplants.

Aliana Soto spoke about donating her kidney to her father, Jose.

“We all have a lot of stuff in our lives, and we need to realize that we can’t let all these things get in the way of doing what’s right,” the younger Soto said to the audience. “Ultimately, this is our purpose — to give life to someone we love and allow that person to live his life to the fullest.”

While Soto and Mitchell attended the event with their loved ones who were recipients of donations, Margaret Valsechi was there to honor the memory of her son, Stephen, who died in Ireland. 

Margaret Valeschi received a painful call that she had to return to her home country after her son was involved in a fatal accident. The mother honored his wishes and made sure his organs were donated.

“Four people are now alive thanks to my tall, handsome son,” the Valeschi matriarch said at the event. “His kidneys were donated to two people in renal failure and his liver was donated to a 40-year-old woman.”

A special part of the donation process for Margaret Valsechi was that her son’s heart was donated to a family friend.

“The greatest gift of all was that Stephen’s heart went to a 25-year-old man who is now married with children of his own,” she said. “It’s my great pleasure that the man who has my son’s heart now has children of his own. Their little boy is named Charlie Stephen in honor of my son. And when those children call me ‘Nana Megs,’ it gives me indescribable pleasure.”

For Margaret Valeschi, her son remains with her in spirit due to his selfless gift.

“I was there for his wedding, and I watched him turn to see his bride walking down the aisle,” she said. “I’m sure his heart skipped a beat when he saw his beautiful bride, and I thought, ‘That heart belongs to my child.’”

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Kelsey Heneghan

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