I don’t know how to start writing this. It feels very “look at me, I’m doing something nice for someone,” the more I think about what to write. None of this is meant that way and I hope none of it comes across as such.
40 years ago I was born at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT. I grew up in a loving home in Old Lyme, CT and lived with my parents through my second year of college before moving to Atlanta to finish my BFA. I had a small, solid group of friends growing up with a best friend that continues that role today. Old Lyme is a small town and everyone knows each other. After college I lived at home for a few months while looking for a job, which I quickly secured in Boston, MA and moved there for the next several years.
Growing up, my parents (Larry and Denise) were the best role models I can imagine ever having. They loved (and still do) each other and loved my brother Dylan and me. We spent a lot of time visiting with relatives, taking family trips and spending time together. My dad coached me in soccer and baseball until I was 12 years old and has always been by my side. My mom attended every game, helped me with school work and has throughout my life been a voice of infinite wisdom. I’ve asked her many times to write a book… about anything she sets her mind to.
In 2012, Melanie and I tied the knot and have never skipped a beat in our love for each other. We care about and respect each other in what feels like an uncommon way. We knew it from day one and wish we could live for hundreds of years together. Our son was born (at Yale New Haven Hospital) with Duodenal Atresia and had life-saving surgery hours after he was born. Meanwhile, Melanie was hospitalized with Postpartum Preeclampsia and remained in the hospital for nearly 2 weeks. Parker was discharged on Friday, December 14, 2012. As we drove him home from the hospital, we listed to the devastating news on the radio about the massacre at Newtown Elementary School. We were torn apart by the loss those parents suffered, while internally so grateful to be bringing our healthy baby boy home. Phillip Phillips’ song, “Home,” became our anthem.
Being a dad is the greatest role I’ve ever played in life. It is so intertwined with being (to the best of my abilities) a good husband and, to me, is inseparable from that role. Helping a child maneuver life, celebrate achievements, learn from missteps and laugh, laugh and laugh along the way is something I can no longer imagine my life without. I waited a long time to be a dad, and almost gave up hope on it. This is yet another reason why I love Melanie as much as I do. She gave me this gift of a life to nurture.
Three years ago, our family suffered a tremendous loss. My uncle Justin passed away at the far-too-young age of 55 after battling with colon cancer that spread relentlessly through his body. I felt helpless watching my cousins lose their dad–a man who would bend over backwards for every single one of them. “It’s all about the kids, man!” was one of the last things he said to me when we shared a conversation I’ll never forget. Months later, Dylan and I ran the Hartford Marathon in Justin’s memory and raised some money in the process to support a charity that Justin picked before he passed.
I could tell my mother was devastated, yet externally showed strength and resolve to be there for others. That’s who she is and has always been. Less than a year later, her father passed away. A year after that, her other brother was treated for cancer. It was a rough stretch, to say the least.
How We Got Here Together
While all this was happening, Melanie was growing up in Montville, CT and began her career at Mohegan Sun in the late 1990’s. With a high school diploma, she tenaciously worked her way up to Traffic & Production Manager, a role that put her in constant contact with a small marketing agency in Essex, CT that is now named Overabove. She’s known John Visgilio, one of the owners of the company for two decades.
Melanie and I met while working at Mohegan Sun and through Melanie I got to know several Overabove employees and ultimately, John. When I reached out to him to inquire about a job a few years later, who knew it would lead to where I now find myself.
In 2015, I made a career move to work for Overabove, 3 years after Melanie left Mohegan Sun to be a fulltime mom to our wonderful son. Since then, we’ve suffered from infertility issues while trying to grow our family and went through several rounds of in-vitro fertilization and ultimately, Melanie had surgery to try to help. Nothing has worked, so we are now full-bore looking into adoption. We love the idea of helping a child who needs a loving home. We have more love than we know what to do with and really hope we can help someone who needs a shoulder to cry on, arms to be wrapped up in and a kiss goodnight every single night.
Have I mentioned that our dog, Peaches, and cat, Sam are both rescues? And, happen to be the sweetest creatures, and best friends to each other and our son?!
On October 31, 2015, we met Rob Wallace for the first time. We’d brought our son to watch a Valley Regional/Old Lyme Warriors football game at Lyme-Old Lyme High School. We sat on the same hill that I sat on to cheer on our soccer teams back in the early 1990’s when I was in the Old Lyme school system. John was at this game watching his son quarterback the team and his very close friend Rob was there watching his son play as well. We had a friendly conversation about the house just beyond the trees that Melanie and I were in the process of purchasing. He seemed like such a nice person, and was genuinely interested in what we were up to.
When A Neighbor Needs Help
When we met Rob Wallace that afternoon, none of us had any idea he would be diagnosed with Liver Cancer a few weeks later, on November 15, 2015. There he was, watching his son play football like everyone else on the hill. And there I was, goofing around with my much younger son. There were many other dads there that day.
It wasn’t until late 2016 that Rob and his remarkable wife Lori made the decision to go public with their story, in the hopes that by talking about Rob’s situation, and asking the community for help that they would have more likelihood of finding him a living donor.
John enlisted his team of marketers at Overabove to help, and the team jumped in whole-heartedly. We designed, built and launched a website. We designed and launched a Facebook Community Page and gave the Wallaces ideas for the types of content to post and a suggested frequency. Never once asking for money, the sole purpose of the campaign was to generate phone calls to Yale New Haven Hospital to try to find a match. Hundreds of calls poured in.
It took a few days for me to get a call back not a month after we launched the website. And nearly 3 weeks passed before a follow-up. The campaign was very effective and caused several people to call. There were people in the queue being tested ahead of me.
You see, I had been exposed to the materials we worked on for the Wallaces and knew that the first step to being a match was to be either Type O+ or O-. I knew I was O+ and the idea sat in the back of my skull for 24 hours or so before I mentioned this to Melanie. No, I never used the “Hey, what’s your blood type?” pick up line on her… We laid in bed late one night talking about this and her unwavering sentiment pushed my fleeting thought of considering looking into this… into full blown action. She was sound asleep shortly thereafter while I scoured the internet to learn about what exactly donating your liver entails. I called Yale the next day.
Fast forward 3 months, countless blood tests, an MRI, CT Scan, stress test, cardiac ultrasound, echo cardiogram, ekg, mental health evaluation, liver biopsy, and on so on and so forth, and on April 20, 2017 I was officially approved to be Rob’s living liver donor. Surgery is set for mid-June. They will remove Rob’s liver and replace it with the right lobe of my liver, which represents 63% of its total volume.
Four months ago I didn’t even know where my liver was located within my body.
The hospital itself has used the terminology several times, (sic), “You will undergo a major surgery for no medical reason.” Time in the ICU. A week in the hospital. Potentially months out of work. A lot of pain.
So, why am I doing this?
First, thanks for reading this far.
Second, because I can.
It’s really that simple for me. I don’t think I’m special and I don’t want attention for this. Rob needs help and I am physically able to help him. I’ve written all these words in the hopes that I might show that I’m just a regular guy, with a great, loving support system and find myself to be in a position to be able to help someone in my community. I love this community. I grew up in Old Lyme and I intend to live here for the rest of my days. Melanie loves me and fully supports this.
Rob and Lori have three wonderful children. I’m sure they would like to have their dad at their weddings some day. I’ve looked to my dad for guidance countless times in my life and it broke my heart to see my then 10-year old cousin lose her dad three years ago.
Pain is temporary. The liver regenerates. My liver will be back to at least 95% of its original volume within 6 weeks of its removal. These are some of the factual reasons.
No, Really, Why?
While I am not a religious man, I believe in good. I believe in the mantra, Live Friendly. I believe that each of us has a path in this life and we make of it what we are capable of making it. We face many crossroads in life and sometimes encounter life-altering decisions. I’ve certainly made some very bad mistakes in my life and can’t say that I live without regrets.
If I never picked up the phone in January, I’d have another regret in my heart.
Occasionally, we’re faced with an opportunity to make a major impact on something meaningful. The weeks and months immediately following our surgeries will be very difficult. But Rob and I will heal. Lori will have her husband for a lot longer. Their children will have their dad for a lot longer. As a husband, son and father, I know what this means for Lori, the kids, and I know what this means for Rob.
My gift to Rob, a man I barely know, is admittedly a generous one. I understand this and, yes, am proud of this decision. It’s a heck of an undertaking and I don’t even know the half of it right now, as my body is still fully in tact. In 2 months I will have a large healing incision in me.
The real reason I wanted to write all this down is because the world needs more love. We each know so many people in our lives, and so many people could use a hand. People we pass by every day have a story. Smile at them. If the person in front of you in line is fumbling for that extra dollar, offer to pay for them. The impact we can have on each other’s lives with a single, simple act of kindness can change the entire course of someone’s life.
Before all this started, I registered for the Essex Steam Train half marathon in Essex, CT taking place on October 28, 2017. I’ll be 9 days into my 41st year of life and 4 months removed from this major surgery. The race starts right next to where I work at Overabove. Melanie and Parker will ride the train while I once again run alongside my brother Dylan.
My pace will be slower than I will want it to be. I will have to walk some of the course when I would otherwise prefer to beat a certain pace. But, helping Rob Wallace beat cancer is enough of a victory for this year.