A Meeting 22 Years in the Making

On Oct. 8, 1991, in Arlington, Texas, the Wolf family was forever changed. Their strong and fierce little PJ rode his bike across the street to ask his best friend to play – but without a helmet that day. He was hit by a car and was rushed to the hospital. The next few days were grueling for the family, but in the end, PJ did not survive his injuries. 

Oddly enough for an 8-year-old, PJ had talked to his mom about organ donation only a short while before his accident. He said he would want to be a donor. He had seen something on television about it and thought it was the right thing to do. His parents honored their son’s wishes and this famed miniature Indiana Jones was able to donate both kidneys, as well as his liver, heart valves and eyes. 
 
Nearly three years after PJ’s death, he was still saving lives. While most transplants take place immediately, such is not the case with heart valves; heart valves can be stored for as long as 10 years. Four-year-old Katy Portell, born with a severe heart condition and having already survived several heart surgeries, was in need of a heart valve transplant. PJ’s heart valve was a perfect match. 

Fast-forward 22 years. Katy began working in the field of organ donation and became curious about her donor, realizing that oftentimes recipients are able to meet their donor’s family. After several months of tracking down where to send her letter, she was successful. For the next six months, she and PJ’s family corresponded. When they agreed to meet, Dignity Memorial funeral services, CryoLife, CTS of Texas and the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) stepped up to help make that happen – and not just anywhere, but at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. 

In a small, emotion-filled room, Katy practically ran into the waiting arms of Sheila and Jack Wolf, PJ’s parents, and then Vanessa, one of PJ’s sisters. They were able to spend several days getting to know each other, working on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float and exchanging personal contact information. At the end of the week, PJ’s life had been widely celebrated, two families became one and they now have a bond that will endure a lifetime.

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