Organ recipients meet victim's family

February 9, 2009 4:01:21 AM PST
James O'Hea was told privately his failing heart gave him little more than a month to live. Terence Begley's diabetes meant more years of dialysis and deteriorating kidneys. That was before a tragic event - the shooting of three people in a church last November - turned life-affirming through the quick response of one victim's family.

O'Hea, Begley and three other people received organs from 25-year-old Dennis John Mallosseril. He was shot and killed Nov. 23 as he tried to break up an argument between a fellow church member and her estranged husband, according to police and witnesses.

O'Hea, Begley and the other recipients - Malta Hameed, 40, of Clifton; Migdalia Torres, 52, of Cleveland, Ohio, and John Muscarella, 22, of East Newark - attended a memorial service for Mallosseril on Sunday at the St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church, where the shooting happened.

Before the service, the recipients had an emotional meeting with Mallossseril's parents.

"They bent down and listened to my heart," O'Hea said. "I had tears rolling down my cheeks."

Torres, who has suffered for 25 years from lupus that has affected her kidneys, recalled jumping out of bed at 6 a.m. on the morning after the shooting when she received a call that an organ match had been found. Like the others, she admitted having mixed feelings about the events that led to her transplant.

"I knew someone would have to die for me to get a kidney, but I didn't expect it to be the way he died," she said Sunday.

For the 57-year-old O'Hea, who was suffering congestive heart failure, the donation and transplant literally meant a new lease on life.

"I was weak and basically bedridden," O'Hea said last week. "My cardiologist agreed that if I hadn't gotten a heart, I would not have made it through December."

Begley, who no longer requires the thrice-weekly dialysis treatments he has endured for the last four years, received Mallosseril's kidney and pancreas. Hameed received a liver and Torres received a kidney.

Muscarella suffers from cystic fibrosis and had been given a less than 50 percent chance of surviving more than two years had he not received both of Mallosseril's lungs.

Mallosseril died of his wounds on the night of the shooting, two days before he would have turned 26. His family decided to donate his organs.

"It's so totally altruistic," said William Reitsma, director of clinical services for NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit organization that coordinated the recovery of Mallosseril's organs.

"It's not like this family knew these people, these are people they've never met. It's not like you're doing this for a friend or a cousin, it's something totally altruistic, and our community isn't too given to doing this anymore."

According to Donate Life New Jersey, more than 100,000 people nationwide are waiting for transplants, and an average of 18 people each day die waiting.

"We are so happy we did it," Mallosseril's mother, Aley John Mallosseril, said Sunday. "We saw how we could help other people to live, and there is no way to describe how happy we are to see them all, their spirit. I want people to learn something from this; Dennis' life was lost but I want some good to come of it."

The woman Mallosseril tried to help also was killed, and her cousin was seriously wounded. Joseph Pallipurath has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges and remains in jail.

Chief Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor John Latoracca said the case will be presented to a grand jury in the next few months.

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