Patient gets church shooting victim's lungs

December 3, 2008 7:26:01 PM PST
Suja Alummoottil called her slain nephew "a little guy with a big heart," words of praise that have taken on an entirely new meaning in recent days. Fatally shot Nov. 23 when he tried to break up an argument in a church vestibule as 200 people prayed yards away, Dennis John Malloosseril's family donated his organs in the hope that others could draw life from the tragedy.

Within a day of the shooting, his lungs had been transplanted into 21-year-old John Muscarella, a cystic fibrosis patient who had been given a less than 50 percent chance of surviving another two years without the operation.

"This is really overwhelming," Muscarella said Wednesday, as he prepared to be discharged from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "I've got a whole new outlook on life. I'm definitely not taking anything for granted."

Family and friends say Malloosseril, who was shot two days before his 26th birthday, was an emerging leader in the church. He organized an annual football game for members around this time of year and taught religious songs to children.

"Dennis had so many friends, and he would help anyone," Alummoottil said. "I knew he would have wanted to help after his death."

Malloosseril was shot in the head while trying to quell a dispute between 24-year-old Reshma James and her estranged husband, Joseph Pallipurath, who had driven from California to confront her.

James also was fatally shot, and Pallipurath was captured 36 hours later in a motel in Georgia. He was returned to New Jersey on Wednesday night to face homicide and weapons charges. He is expected to be arraigned on Friday, authorities said.

In a statement that now seems eerily prophetic, Alummoottil said Malloosseril had written on his Facebook page that "I do what I believe in, even if what I believe in keeps me from breathing."

She drew laughs at Wednesday's news conference when she described her nephew as a big New York Giants fan, since Muscarella was wearing the New York Jets No. 4 jersey of quarterback Brett Favre.

Muscarella has suffered for several years with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes the thickening of mucus in the lungs and leads to recurring infections and pneumonia. In recent years, he was unable to walk outside without becoming short of breath.

Sean M. Studer, the hospital's medical director of lung transplants, said Muscarella will have to remain on medication and adjust his lifestyle to avoid infections during the first year.

However, he is likely to return to where he was before the illness.

"I'm feeling really good now," Muscarella said. "There's minimal pain. Everything's really calm, and I'm not out of breath."

The double transplant was only the second performed at Beth Israel, which became the sole licensed lung transplant program in New Jersey in 2006, and it required a coordinated effort that combined speed and timing.

According to William Reitsma, director of clinical services for NJ Sharing Network, an organ procurement organization, it is crucial that lungs not be out of the body for more than four to six hours if they are to be transplanted.

Malloosseril died on the evening of Nov. 23, and his lungs and other organs were recovered the next day. A match was made with Muscarella, and the organs were transported by ambulance from St.

Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson to Beth Israel.

That didn't leave a whole lot of time for Muscarella to get from his home in Bayville, a community in Ocean County. A state police escort, complete with sirens and flashing lights, helped smooth the way.

"We made it in about an hour," said Muscarella's mother, Debra.

Hospital officials said Malloosseril's heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas have been recovered along with his lungs.

"We're very proud of him," Alummoottil said. "He's going to live on through all the organs he donated."

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