A life-saving liver transplant performed in 2003 at Strong Memorial Hospital turned out to be one of Richard Perez’s greatest blessings, and he hasn’t taken the opportunity for granted.
Given another chance at life, the 63-year-old has spent the past 15 years on a mission to help educate the community about organ donation and transplant, all the while providing camaraderie, comfort, support and to those in need of an organ donation.
Even before he received a transplant, Perez, who was born in the Bronx but lived most of his life in Rochester, suspected there was a great need for donors. “I was sitting across the table from my surgeon, Dr. Mark Orloff, listening to the prognosis, and about how rare it would be that there would be a viable liver available, given that participation in the organ donor registry is so low,” Perez recalls. “I asked him right then if there was anything I could do to help change that.”
After he received his transplant, Perez volunteered with the Rochester Eye and Tissue Bank, now known as the Lions Eye Bank at Rochester, educating the public about organ donation and encouraging people to sign up for the Organ Donor Registry at community events. Perez continues volunteering throughout the Rochester area to raise awareness for organ donation. He tirelessly recruits those he meets to register for the New York State Donate Life Registry. During the past six years, he has become one of Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network’s most stalwart volunteers.
“Richard has this ability to make you think about organ donation differently,” says Karen Guarino, communications director at the Lions Eye Bank. “His vibrant enthusiasm for life, and his humble and sincere gratitude for his donor and his donor’s family, touches people in a profound and positive way.”
One year after receiving his transplant, while helping raise awareness and encouraging others to register as organ donors, Perez expanded a volunteer program through Strong Memorial Hospital’s Friends of Strong. The program is designed to comfort inpatients and their families who are experiencing the same transplant journey he did.
Since then, Perez has volunteered more than 5,000 hours to make patients’ lives a little brighter. The program, with Perez leading the charge, features at least eight volunteers at any given time. Each volunteer is an organ transplant recipient who uniquely understands how to provide comfort, hope, and inspiration to those who face the daunting obstacles they have overcome.
“The fact that I found myself in need of a liver and the fact that someone that I don’t even know gave me the opportunity to live by being an organ donor, it changed my life,” Perez says. “I do now feel that this life for the past 15 years is to give others support and to show them that we can survive. I want to continue dedicating myself to promoting organ donations so others can survive.”