From a Loss, Others Gain

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tom and Nancy Susco's journey started at South Lakes High School in Reston in 1997, when they and their two teenage sons first discussed becoming organ donors. The journey became a reality when their younger son, Tim, went into a coma last year with a brain aneurysm. It will reach an emotional zenith next month when the Suscos meet the man who received their son's heart and lungs in Hawaii.

The past year has been cathartic for the Suscos, of Reston, who had watched with pride as their son became a location coordinator in Los Angeles for the TV show "Heroes." In his memory, the Suscos are organizing a run and walk event in Reston next month to benefit brain aneurysm research and organ donation.

Tim Susco, a 1999 graduate of South Lakes, was 25; the benefit race will be Oct. 4, which would have been his birthday.

"You kind of have to make your mind up," Nancy Susco said, "that you're going to make something negative into a positive."

To that end, she has become active in promoting organ donation and can provide information and insights like a pro. She noted that 100,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant and that an average of 18 people a day die in this country while waiting for a transplant.

Paul Dean, 60, expected he would be one of those people who didn't make it. Last year, when it looked as though he was about to get the lung transplant he'd been hoping for, doctors discovered his heart had been damaged by the same rare disease that had scarred his lungs. He needed a heart and lungs.

"I accepted that, hey, it's over," Dean said. "I've lived a full life. I've experienced everything I wanted to experience, except I was going to miss my grandchildren."

Dean, who has six children and 20 grandchildren, had moved from Maui to Los Angeles and waited a year in hopes of a transplant. He got the call Aug. 17, 2007, saying he was getting a new heart and lungs.

The operation was a success. Once he was attached to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day and needed a scooter to get around; now he needs neither. His only problem is when his muscles get sore from walking too much.

Soon after the transplant, he looked for whom to thank. Although organ procurement organizations typically seek to protect the privacy of people involved in transplants, Dean and the Suscos began establishing contact through their organizations.

Dean learned that the young man who gave him his heart and lungs worked on "Heroes" and found out more through an Internet search. Eventually, the Suscos and Dean became regular correspondents.

Next month, they will meet in Maui. At an organ donation awareness parade in Maui, Dean and his family will wear T-shirts bearing Tim Susco's picture.

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