Kristen O’Hara was a thriving, energetic high school student in Jackson, NJ. She enjoyed the game of basketball. She had curly blond hair and large and beautiful blue eyes. She loved her mother and had the kind of passion for life that makes us remember our youth so fondly. On September 11th 2007, while driving with three others, the unthinkable occurred. Kristen was killed when the car lost control shortly after school while on the way to visit friends. This beautiful life was over, at least, in part.
A short while later, at a hospital 50 miles away, Michael Strusiak was being prepped for surgery after receiving a call that his second chance had come. A diabetic from the age of 13, Michael had lived a life of one heartbreaking hardship after another. Because of his failing health, he had been on dialysis for the three years leading up to his transplant, a grueling and painful four hours a day, and three days a week that routinely drained of his energy, and his hope. On top of that, Michael had the cruelest of diet restrictions—in addition to not being able to consume sugars, most foods were restricted and he was unable to even drink water.
When Kristen died, her family made the heroic decision, amidst their shock and grief, to donate her organs and in turn, donate life. And so shortly after her terrible accident, her pancreas and kidney were leaving Jersey Shore University Medical Center and were on their way to this man – who had hardly known a healthy day. The transplant was a miraculous success, and, surrounded by friends and family and a newfound hope and spirit, Michael devoured his first birthday cake at the hospital at the age of 50.
Michael Strusiak was one of four saved by Kristen’s gifts. Today, Michael is alive because Kristen’s parents, desperate to find the silver lining in the loss of their youngest daughter, selflessly said yes to the ultimate gift of life. And today, Michael, and others, are carrying on Kristen’s legacy.
To honor Kristen, Michael participates in the National Transplant Olympics, bringing medals home to her family. He is an active NJ Sharing Network volunteer, spreading awareness across New Jersey about the life-saving gift of organ and tissue donation. Michael carries her photo everywhere he goes. He “introduces” her to everyone he meets. He keeps Kristen alive in spirit, as powerfully as her organs keep him alive.
Organ donation is a powerful and life-saving gift that helps to heal both the recipient and the family experiencing the loss. Alyssa D’Addio is a donor family member who knows first-hand how saving others through the gift of life—helps keep the memory of their loved one alive! Jan Hines is a Hospital Services Manager with NJ Sharing Network who works with hospitals ensuring that the donation process and donation wishes are carried out. To register as a donor, visit your local MVC or www.sharenj.org.