Tom Susco (left) and his wife, Nancy, meet 65-year-old Paul Dean of Lahaina at the Kahului Airport. Dean received a new heart and lungs from the Suscos’ son Tim in August 2007. Photo: Claudine San Nicholas.
By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS MauiNews.com
KAHULUI - A Lahaina man with a new heart and lungs made an emotional connection Sunday with the couple who made his successful transplant happen.
Paul Dean, 65, struggled to find the words to describe his feelings after meeting Tom and Nancy Susco of Reston, Va., parents of the donor, Tim Susco.
Tim Susco died Aug. 15, 2007, at age 25 after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm. His heart and lungs were donated to Dean, who in August 2007 had been told that he would not live past the end of the year without the organ transplants.
Tom and Nancy Susco had fulfilled a family agreement to donate Tim's organs at the time of their son's death.
When the Suscos mentioned plans to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this fall in Hawaii, Dean and his wife, Grayce, jumped at the chance to meet face to face on Maui.
Donor families and donor recipients are never required to connect, let alone meet in person.
"For us, it wasn't optional," Paul Dean said. "For us, we just had to show some sort of appreciation and so we wanted to meet them. We'll never be able to pay them back but we can thank them."
Nancy Susco said she believed her family was blessed to have met the Deans and their family, including six children and 21 grandchildren.
"We are so lucky that they wanted to meet us," Nancy Susco said. "Even though the idea seems weird, it was really the right thing to do. They made us feel us comfortable and we're just overwhelmed."
"I was so happy," Gracye Dean said, about her husband meeting Nancy in particular. "He allowed her to cry and to grieve."
Both Tom and Nancy Susco described their initial meeting with Paul Dean as "overwhelming." The Suscos and Deans have since shared a meal together and they hope to meet again before the Deans leave Maui on Friday.
"It doesn't change the fact that Tim died but it does seem worthwhile," Tom Susco said. "I especially was very nervous. You want it to go well, but you don't know until it happens."
Nancy Susco said she and her family never hesitated about organ donation because they had discussed it with both sons (Tim has an older brother, Tom) when they were high school seniors and first signed up to be organ donors.
As a nurse, Nancy Susco knew from talking to Tim's doctors that her son's survival from the brain aneurysm was virtually nil.
"We weren't going to get the miracle we wanted," she said.
The family then decided to carry out Tim's wishes to have his organs donated. A 3-year-old and a 17-year-old split his liver, the only organ in the body that could go to two people because of its ability to regenerate.
Two adult women each received a kidney. Two people received corneas, and Tim's skin and bones were placed into a donor bank that assists burn victims and people who suffer from major bone injuries.
The Suscos said organ donations can assist as many as 50 people. The gift is even more significant considering the impact the donation has on a recipient's family as well, Nancy Susco said.
The Suscos have been in contact through letters with most of Tim's organ recipients and their families. Paul Dean and his family are the first of the receiving families they've met.
Paul Dean received his new heart and two lungs on Aug. 17, 2007, two days after Tim Susco's death.
"Everything's good," Dean said of his condition today. "I feel great."
In November 2006, doctors offered a grim prognosis. He had suffered an illness that damaged his heart and caused steady deterioration to his lungs. His surgeon initially rejected the idea of lung surgery, in part because Dean's heart had been damaged by the muscle disease initially diagnosed years before.
At 6 feet tall, Dean was a robust 285-pound heavy equipment operator who worked for Hawaiian Dredging for 27 years before retiring. Soon after, he was struck by the disease that that damaged his heart and spread to the lungs, causing bouts of shortness of breath that steadily worsened. By 2006, he was down to 150 pounds and was placed on oxygen 24 hours a day.
To move about, Dean had to use an electric scooter.
He has since given up the scooter, and only three months after his transplant, he was able to return home to Lahaina.
Earlier this year, he was able to have a wish fulfilled - to see the oldest of 21 grandchildren graduate from high school.
Paul and Grayce Dean continue to be active in the Boy Scouts by mentoring adult leaders. Grayce Dean assists Eagle Scouts and was especially impressed when she learned that her husband's benefactor had been an Eagle Scout.
Tim Susco was a 1999 graduate of South Lakes High School in Virginia and a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. At the time of his death, he was working in Hollywood, Calif., having just received a promotion as a key assistant location manager on the TV show "Heroes."
The Susco family has multiple connections to health care. Father Tom is a pharmacist; Nancy, a nurse; brother Tom is a physical therapist. As an added response to the gifts from Tim, the Suscos established a Brain Aneurysm Awareness Foundation and have raised $70,000 for research in brain aneurysms and organ donation.
Both the Deans and Suscos have made it their mission to raise awareness about organ donation.
Paul Dean said he had not been aware of organ donation until his own illness made him a recipient. Since then, he has committed to organ donation promotion and recently assisted the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii with donor card signups at the Maui County Fair. The Deans' six adult children have all volunteered to be organ donors.
There are currently 364 people in the state waiting for an organ, according to the Hawaii center.
For more information about organ donation, call the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii toll-free at (877) 855-0603, or visit the Web site.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves