Monday, April 12, 2010

Miss Information

Oh, it’s lovely to be back from Spring Staycation! And what better way to return after two weeks of frolicking among daffodils and gnawing the heads off tiny marshmallow peeps than to celebrate National Organ/Tissue Donor Awareness Month or, as I and others who cherish every extra moment we live and breathe because someone else had the courage to front us some organ or tissue like to call it:

National Donate Life Month.

A year before the pic on the left of my oldest brother and I was taken at the 1990 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, I wasn't thinking swimsuit competitions and scholarship. In Sept '88, Stan and I were seven months out from the day he gave up one of his kidneys so I wouldn't die, so I could live, finish college, fall in love and marry, one day give birth, stumble across romance novels...mostly, so I simply had a chance to survive past my early 20s.

Compared to "the gift of life," the fact that a year after my kidney transplant I ended up winning Miss PA, earning Top 10
honors at Miss A (See video below), scored more than $20,000 in scholarship to finish the degree waylaid by kidney disease, got NY Times praise on my talent-competition aria (photo, right) and wore the crown may seem fairly incidental. That I my year-of-service as Miss PA allowed me to travel the country spreading the gospel of organ donation and transplantation is not.

For in doing that as Miss PA and for the next couple years as a "celebrity professional patient" and motivational speaker, I didn't just encourage tens of thousands of folks to sign organ-donor cards and share with their families their choices as I hope you'll do today here. I cried and sometimes laughed with parents whose children's organs saved lives of other adults so those men and women could live to watch their own kids grow up.
I heard the news that people awaiting transplantation, with kidney disease or on dialysis whom I'd met on my travels had received the organs they'd long awaited. Folks with donor cards proudly waved them at me from audiences, passing cars and at conferences -- and wrote to tell me how mine and my brother's story encouraged them and their families to sign donor cards. And hundreds of transplant recipients and I connected and supported one another in exactly the same ways veterans of wars do.

I'd gladly live through again and again the worst days of pain or illness following my transplant -- when I contracted a funky virus and had weeks of debilitating, high-grade fevers, when I dealt with depression, lost my hair or later have had issues with sepsis, etc. -- simply to be alive today. I've known folks who couldn't get an organ when they needed one or whose transplants failed. Yet here I am, 22 years post transplant with a beautifully functioning kidney, perfect health and excellent prognosis for keeping the organ for a long time to come. Believe me, I never for a second forget my good fortune and blessings; that's why I live and do things the way I do.

So please take a second to think about signing an organ donor card, then tell your loved ones about your choice. If you've got yours already, grazie! Thank you so much! Myths abound about donation and transplantation -- like after surgery you'll automatically grow big hair and crave watching "Little Miss Sunshine" over and over -- but you can check out the facts here.

Why are you glad to be alive on this very day? And, how big was your hair in 1989?


ev said...

How did you ever get in that competition- you are so danged short compared to the rest of them!!! Even with the big hair!

And the shoulder pads on some of those outfits! And the pants! I can't believe how many of you were wearing evening pants!OMG, you wouldn't see it now.

My hair in 1989? It wasn't big, it was FLUFFY! Just look at the pics on my FB page that my wonderful daughter posted. I will find a way to get even with her, don't worry about it.

I have had my donor card for years and I like that they are now right on our license. They didn't used to be, just a check mark you made. Now my wishes are right there with the DMV.

My late Son-in-law was the recipient of a kidney from his best friend. It enabled him to live for many more years that he would have and when he died unexpectedly just a couple years ago, it had nothing to do with the kidney. It was still going strong.

And I think your brother should have been in a pagent as handsome as he looked in his dress whites!!!

Eva Gale said...

Look at you!!!!

I'm signed up to be donor! So are my licensed kids.

Monica Burns said...

I think you're bro is AWESOME for having done what he did, and I think it's wonderful that because of his love for you, you're here with us now.

I've been an organ donor for some time. My uncle received new corneas because of a donor and his eyesight was restored. Generosity doesn't stop when you die.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buona sera, Bellas! Oh, what a nice vacation. Lots of work, but great news: We sold our house! It was on the market 8 days. Amazing. We didn't even have time to pland St Josephe. Since then it's been kind of crazy, but we're so relieved. The kind of nutty thing is that we're probably going to end up living in an extended-stay hotel through the end of the school year. us, 2 rooms, 2 kids and 2 pets. hurray.

But it's fun to get back to some more work of a different sort. I did some comfort reading, which was fun, as well as some new-stuff reading. And I really wanted to make sure I talked once this month about the organ stuff. yes. you don't have to say it. sheesh.

Hi, Ev! Nice to see you first thing back. I know. I was the shortest contestant that year. I'd like to say that I was trying to add inches w/the big hair, but I think I was just trying to look...well, i'm not sure what.

It's funny you picked up on the evening pants! That year, Miss A was trying to update the pageant a bit (I hear you snickering), and having contestants wear pants suits in the opening production was part of the plan.

And did you notice the first contestant called, Jeri Zimmerman, Miss IL, is Jeri Ryan of DS9 fame? The story goes that she rec'd a call from a major modeling agency in ny the day after Miss A. Let me tell you, she was beautiful. And tall! And I had to stand next to her in a couple numbers. Fairly intimidating. : ) Virginia Cha the first runner up became a well-known news anchor, one of the Southern Misses still is a host on QVC. A bunch of the chicks that year did great stuff. In general, the pageant opens lots of doors. And, of course, teaches one the practical application of duct tape.

Glad you have the card! Wasn't it awesome when they started putting it on the licenses? And what a story about your SIL. When i was transplanted, they didn't do txplts between friends or folks who werent' related, but it's so cool that they do now; it saves so many lives. How sad that the man didn't live. But the fact that his kidney was so strong -- and, as you say, allowed him to live -- is what it's all about.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Mon! My brother's pretty amazing. All of them are, really. They all were tested, but Stan was a 'perfect' match and the oldest, so he was the "lucky" donor. The other two were kinda bummed. And, yeah, as ev said, he's always been a favorite w/the ladies. My sister-in-law tells the story of how at the hospital after the surgery, the nurses kept finding excuses to come to his room. : )

But he truly is a hero. He's a career Navy guy who's always just stepped up to the plate. And i'm really glad to be here with you, too.

I'm so glad you're a donor. and what remarkable news about your uncle. I was thinking about those donations as I was writing this, the idea that someone who was going to lose sight wouldn't because of someone's donation, their making a generous choice during a time of grief. How beautiful is that?

Vanessa Kelly said...

God bless you and your brother, Michelle. What a beautiful story! I've had the organ donation card in my wallet for years - it always just seemed the right thing to do.

Thanks for sharing the video. All you gals looked lovely, even with the wild hair and pantsuits! Thank God they no longer make styles like that. So that was Jeri Ryan! I thought she was familiar. Yes, she is a long drink of water.

Glad you're here with us to share the fun and the love, Michelle!

Mason Canyon said...

Very inspiring post. I signed a donor card a number of years ago, but had I not I would be signing one today because of your post. Congratulations on your continued good health.

Thoughts in Progress

LizbethSelvig said...

Surprise--it's been ages since I've posted but this was the perfect time to come out of lurkdom and add my gratitude for your brother's generosity. It's selfish, I suppose, but I'm very happy you've been here to add your amazing spark to your friends' lives.

And, I'm grateful your house sold so quickly, grateful you're returning to a more westerly part of the midwest, and grateful you're here to talk about organ donation.

Thanks for being around so wandering Bellas always have a place to come home to!

host said...

I have my card since I was 18 and I'm really proud of it :)

I'm really happy your health is great after so many years with transplanted kidney. Congrats!

ev said...

I was going to comment on Jeri Ryan but forgot- I think she is even more beautiful now than she was then!

Becke Davis said...

I got such a kick out of that video clip - I spotted you in that gorgeous blue dress right away. You looked fabulous, and your hair wasn't nearly as big as some of the contestants. But, God help me, THE SHOULDERS on those dresses. They made women look like fullbacks!

In Ohio, you can list yourself as an organ donor on your drivers' license - I did that a long time ago, and I keep it that way.

Becke Davis said...

By the way, most of you know Gannon Carr, who is part of the RBTB team. She just posted on her Facebook page that her mom died this morning. Please join us in sending hugs and prayers to Gannon and her family.

Anne B said...

Hi Michelle - Welcome back - we missed you. I've been and organ donor since I got my driver's license - It was one of those "no-brainer" decisions because all my life we heard stories about the great gift that organ donation was. I loved the video clip - I too remember the shoulder pads and the earrings !!! That was the year my eldest son graduated from High School and the prom dresses were a site to behold. Glad all is well...


pjpuppymom said...

Welcome back, Michelle and thanks for sharing your story. Big hugs to your brother for his selfless gift of life.

Hey, I remember watching the pageant that year! I liked you because you were short (like me). :)

My dad was a member of the Lion's Club and always stressed the importance of being an organ donor to us. I got my organ donor card when I was in college and have kept it, and had it noted on my driver's license, since then.

My sister-in-law lost her mother to kidney disease. About five years ago, her younger brother was diagnosed with the same disease. He received his kidney transplant last November and is doing amazingly well. We are all so very grateful to the generous person (and family) who gave him this gift of life.

pjpuppymom said...

Becke, thanks for posting the info about Gannon's mom. I didn't want to say anything online until after she had. It's been a very difficult two weeks for her and her family. Gannon has been very touched by and appreciative of the outpouring of support from her friends in the online romance community.

Keri Stevens said...

We had a houseful that night: Debbye Turner was a Missouri gal and it rocked for us. Funny to think I watched you (probably scowled at you because, I was, after all, fiercely loyal to DT) then, my own bangs scraping the ceiling.
With a bottle of Final Net I can still rock the hair, BTW.

My license is signed and my husband and parents have explicit instructions: Part me out, if at all possible. I also like the idea of being a classroom skeleton. With boas.

Captcha is "difirg," as in, "Di fir grows big atop my head."

Deeanne Gist said...

I've had a donor card for years and years. Had no idea you'd received a kidney, though. WOW! And though I knew about the Miss PA, I hadn't seen the video. What a great big treat. You looked fantastic and wonderful and, oh, I wish I could hear your aria!! Hugs!

Julie in Ohio said...

Michelle, your story is so inspirational. I've been a donor since I got my license but thanks for the reminder to talk to my family about it. I honestly don't think the hubby and I have had that conversation. Organ and tissue donation is so important.

Um, I'm pretty sure I've burned all photos taken of me from 1986-1994. Some things should never be revisited.

David B. said...

I have one thought about organ donation, a thought that came to me years after I met and married Michelle.
It is refered to as the "gift of life." That is not quite right. It is a "gift of LIVES," The gift ends up benefiting so many people, husbands, friends to be, children yet to be born. Of course there is a single life first saved, but then it ripples endlessly.

Love you, Michelle.


The Reading Frenzy said...

Look at you MIchelle, YOU ROCK, and you're a Rock Star too!!
I am lucky that me and mine have never had to go through what you have, but long before I knew and loved you I signed my card because of a special program I once saw on local tv here in St. Louis. When a stranger donated an organ because of what we now know as pass it forward. It touched me that someone would be so generous and not to mention brave because his donation was life threatening as well.
So I applaud all that have donated and pray that the recipients are doing well and thank God that they have more time to become who they need to be.
And just think my friend what a loss the world would have endured not to know the woman you are today.
Your Friend

The Reading Frenzy said...

Oh and I can't believe I forgot to say Welcome Back, we missed you. And I hope you're all settled.

Keta Diablo said...

Wonderful post, Michelle, and heartfelt kudos to Stan! What a brother.

It was not only generous, but VERY brave. The article was very uplifting,

Best, Keta Diablo

Lori Foster aka L. L. Foster said...

You haven't changed, Michelle! Beautiful then, beautiful now.
Did anyone else notice that she was the most petite in the group? LOL

Looking forward to seeing you in June at the event!



amy kennedy said...

Every day you amaze me. And I'm proud to have said "yes" to being a donor on my DL.

I want to see video of your aria...whadduya say?

So glad you sold your house, but the hotel thing? I'll pray for you.

amy kennedy said...

Was it Ev who said Jeri Ryan was more beautiful now than she was then -- well, so are you Michelle. And can I say that Stan is a very handsome man.

Trish Milburn said...

Ah, the '80s. I graduated high school in 1989, so those 'dos and outfits bring back memories. You know, I probably saw that pageant.

That's awesome about your brother giving you a kidney and it being such a successful transplant.

Jessa Slade said...

With men like your brother and husband around, no wonder you're into romance! Your very own pack of heroes :)

The hair and extended stay hotel aside (do those even have mini-bars?) you're a lucky woman.

Jennifer Johnson said...

How very wonderful. Thank you for such an inspiring post. Thanks, too, to your brother.

Annette Blair said...

Michelle, I loved seeing you in the pageant, though, as others said, I probably watched it. I'm so glad that you had such wonderful brothers vying for a chance to give you a kidney. I've been a donor for years, and now, knowing you, I'm more pleased than ever that I signed that card. Best with the move & temp hotel stay. Hugs,

Nina in Ohio said...


You have a wonderful brother - who does look great in his dress whites! I'm a military brat myself who donated bone marrow several years ago. The man who received it had three grown sons who weren't married yet and looked forward to getting daugther in laws and grandchildren. I was glad to have helped.

Sign up on Facebook on BE THE MATCH

Jenny Gardiner said...

that was awesome.

How many of those women became anchorwomen? (Ready-made hair for it, right?!).

What a fabulous brother you have. Imagine how awesome he's felt every day since he made that decision. And how lucky we are that he did that.

I was up your way in PA last weekend--daughter got into Schreyer Honors College at PSU so she was checking it out. Was awfully tempted to swing by the Meadows to get frozen custard, but just not time to do it...

Blythe Gifford said...

Wow, what a story! I am signed up - Illinois makes it easy when you get your driver's license.

Sabrina Jeffries said...

Wow, Michelle, I had no idea, either about the transplant or the Miss Pennsylvania thing. Maybe I heard the Miss Pennsylvania thing mentioned sometime and just forgot, but that is so cool. Yes, you WERE short! Still are. *G* But we love you anyway.

My husband and I cannot donate our organs, sadly enough, because we have signed up to donate our brains for autism research and the bodies have to come whole for the brains to be harvested, they said. I still don't understand why they can't use the organs after they take out the brains, but maybe that's changed in the time since we signed up. I should look into that. But our whole family knows. We really want them to figure out how to prevent or at least mitigate autism. It's probably too late for OUR son, but someone else's son might benefit.

I'm a big supporter of organ donation. I have a good friend on the liver transplant list, so I know how hard it can be to get an organ. How wonderful of your brother to do that for you! And how glad we are that he did it!

Cris Anson said...

Oh Michelle, what a moving story. Blessings on your handsome brother for such a selfless action. And kudos to you for using your gift to touch so many people.

I've carried my donor card for many years. It's kind of a comfort to know that a little part of us will live on after we're gone.

But oh, those clothes from 1989! I don't remember pants suits looking that balloonish.

Leigh Court said...

Gosh, you made me laugh and cry at the same time!

I cried because I know either one of my wonderful brothers would be as generous as yours if I needed help in any way.

And I laughed out loud when I saw those hairstyles from the Miss America clip -- someone could seriously use that as blackmail against Geri Ryan, LOL! From Miss America finalist to Seven Of Nine is quite a surreal leap!

Thank you for sharing your story, and yes, I've carried an organ donation card for many years!


Unknown said...

My hair was BIG and I'd just had my first baby-yes I am that old. I'm glad simply to still be around to see all 4 of my kids grow up!
Thanks for sharing such an inspirational story, Michelle :)

Tiona said...

Hey,Michelle! So glad you already sold your house. That's great!
Hmmm, well in ole 89 I was still playing jump-rope, hehe and am pretty sure my hair nor anything else was very bit at 8 years old, hehe.
Anyhew, yes, we should all be grateful for today, everyday and enjoy life to the fullest.
Also, Michelle, when I first saw the pic of you and your bro I thought 'who's that great looking guy with Michelle? And where's her husband?" hehe.

Lucy Monroe said...

Michelle...I loved, loved, LOVED your post today! Thank you so much for being you and caring and never taking your life for granted and sharing that special spirit with the rest of us. :)

I am so grateful to be alive today and every day because of all the amazing people in my life that I love and who love me. :)

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