Donor's family meets recipients of life-saving transplants in Westchester County

VALHALLA, New York (WABC) -- The family of a Queens man who passed away suddenly cried as they listened to his heartbeat -- inside the chest of a transplant recipient.

A.J. Perrelli, of Astoria, died from a brain bleed in 2013 at the age of 26. When it became clear that he would not survive, Perrelli's family made the decision to donate his organs.

His family met with his organ recipients for the first time Tuesday at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

His recipients Mircea Pantea, of Brewster, who received a kidney and liver, and Sergio Castaneda, of Port Chester, who received a heart and kidney, greeted Perrelli's mother and sister with open arms.

Pantea contracted Hepatitis C in his native Romania as a young man, which resulted in his kidneys being overworked and in need of an urgent transplant.

Castaneda was in need of a heart transplant after finding out his heart was only working at 10%. He had bypass surgery and was in congestive heart disease as well prior to the transplant.

A translator said Castaneda is eternally grateful for his new organs, which allowed him to return to work and meet his grandchildren.

"Very happy to be alive, and he's very thankful for the family," Castenada said through the translator.

Perrelli was a dancer who had toured throughout Europe in the past. At the time of his death, his girlfriend was pregnant and he had a son.

Perrelli's family said that "A.J.'s last casting call was as an organ donor." His mom called him a superstar, saying that he donated his heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, corneas. She said he was an old soul, and would often be seen stopping to chat and exchange stories with older people around his Queens neighborhood.

In his memory, his family started a nonprofit called the AJ Project to raise awareness about organ donation and support the arts.

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