At the start of the fall semester in 2010, Stefanos Tsigrimanis, a 29-year-old native of Greece, was living in Brooklyn studying at New York University where he was completing his PhD dissertation. The student of music and art also enjoyed an active social life. He had a girlfriend, and the future looked bright.
And then from nowhere, tragedy struck. On September 7, Stefanos was killed when his bike was struck by a car. Witnesses said he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Stefanos was rushed to Kings County Hospital Center, but nothing could be done to revive him.
When Eleni, his mother, heard what had happened to her only child, she flew from Greece to New York. Despite the unspeakable loss, she realized that something positive could take place. A registered organ donor herself back in Greece, Eleni gave consent so that Stefanos could become an organ and tissue donor.
As a result of the family’s generosity, four lives were saved.
In 2011, on October 20, just more than a year after the loss of Stefanos, Eleni returned to New York. On October 20, she was able to meet all but one of her son’s transplant recipients.
In a ceremony filled with deep emotion and love, Eleni met Ana Bajana (38), a Bronx resident who received Stefanos’s kidney and pancreas. She came face to face with her son’s heart recipient, James Cooper (51) and Valerie Sperazza (59), Stefanos’s liver recipient. The recipient of Stefanos’s other kidney, a 7-year-old, could not attend the meeting.
Ana Bajana: Ana received her kidney and pancreas transplant at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. At the time of the transplant, she was 37. Since childhood, she had Type 1 Diabetes. Also, a high risk pregnancy had affected her kidneys. Ana waited on the transplant list for eleven and a half years.
Ana talks a lot about her gratitude to her donor: “This double transplant has been the biggest blessing of my life. It has given me an opportunity to see my children grow up. I no longer have diabetes. I feel like a free person.”
James Cooper: In 1997, when he was only 37, James had a heart attack. In 2000, James’s health worsened. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, the cause of which is unknown. For around four months prior to receiving his transplant, James’s heart kept functioning because of the device he wore at all times – a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) – that helped maintain his heart’s pumping ability.
After waiting for nearly 10 years and at the age of 50, James finally received a new heart.
A resident of Saugerties in Ulster County, NY, James has been married for 28 years to Bonnie. They have three children, Cody (20), Elise (27) and Reina (8). James loves hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports. “Before I got really sick,” he says, “I was a shipping and receiving supervisor for an advertising agency. These days I’m happy to be a full time caregiver of our youngest daughter, Reina, who was born while I had begun waiting for my transplant.”
Valerie Sperazza: Valerie contracted Hepatitis C in 1984 from a blood transfusion. This occurred during hip replacement surgery. In 2008, she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her liver. Waiting for close to three years, Valerie received her new liver when she was 58.
Valerie lives in Norwich, NY, where she enjoys gardening, loves animals and the outdoor life in general. She notes: “I wouldn’t be alive without the transplant. I am now able to send time with my daughter.”
Three of Stefanos's four recipients meet with his mother, Eleni.
Eleni Tsigrimanis, the mother of organ donor Stefanos (front left), with Marie Colon, New York Donor Network donor family services coordinator behind her, and Helen Irving, the Donor Network's president and CEO.
Eleni touches her heart as she is presented with flowers from Stafanos's heart recipient James Cooper.
A stethescope allows Eleni to hear Stafanos's heart beating strongly in the chest of James Cooper.
A moment of sheer emotion: Bonnie, the wife of heart recipient James Cooper, with their daughter, 8-year-old Reina.
Ana and her daughters meet Eleni.
James and some of his family members talk to Eleni (with her back to the camera), from right: His son Cody (20), daughter Reina and wife Bonnie.
An embrace that symbolizes the power of organ donation and a second chance at life: Liver recipient Valerie Sperrazza thanks Eleni.
Eleni holds a photo of Stefanos as she chats with Valerie.
Eleni with three of the four people whose lives were saved by her son (from left): Ana, James and Valerie.
Kidney-pancreas recipient Ana Bajana (right) meets Eleni, while the Donor Network's Marie Colon looks on.
Celebrating Stefanos's life, from left, Ronnie Schwartz, New York Organ Donor Network Memory Quilt coordinator; Linda Bowes, Donor Network manager of hospital services; Eleni, the donor's mother; heart recipient James Cooper; Helen Irving, Donor Network president and CEO; liver recipient Valerie Sperrazza; kidney and pancreas recipient Ana Bajana; Marie Colon, Donor Network donor family services coordinator, and Jasmine Avalo, Donor Network family services administrative assistant.