LECOM Bradenton hosts Colby Foundation lecture series
Students learn importance of organ and tissue donation


"Turning tragedy into triumph; giving hope to a hopeless situation."

Starla Cassani of the Colby Foundation speaks with LECOM Bradenton first-year osteopathic medical students Benjamin Cox and Miciah Jones.

It’s a message that echoed through the LECOM Bradenton lecture hall as Starla Cassani made an impassioned plea to future osteopathic physicians on the power of organ and tissue donation.

“You, as future physicians, have the power to increase awareness regarding organ and tissue donation in the communities that you will serve,” said Cassani, founder of the Colby Foundation.

Following the tragic death of her 14-month-old son, Colby, in 1993, Cassani and her husband John have devoted their lives to educating people on the importance of organ and tissue donation. Starla Cassani spoke about how Colby’s death has brought life to three people.

“Colby has saved three lives … he is my hero,” she said. “His kidneys have given life to a 27-year-old in Pittsburgh, a 2 1/2-year-old girl in Sacramento who received his liver, and a 5-month-old boy in Colorado who received his heart.”

That 5-month-old boy, Brayden, is now 16. Cassani recalls the day when Brayden, then 3, gave her a precious gift.

“He asked me to listen to his heart,” she said. “What can you say after hearing that? It was a truly profound moment. We are blessed to have been able to give the gift of donation and transplantation. Supporting this cause gave me passion and purpose in my life.”

In 1995, Cassani and her husband John, an osteopathic physician, established the Colby Foundation in memory of their son. The foundation sponsors a series of lectures and this year, LECOM became the second medical college in the nation to host the lectures. The foundation accepted a grant proposal submitted last year by Hershey S. Bell, MD, MS, Associate Dean of Faculty Development and Silvia M. Ferretti, DO, Senior Vice President, Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs.

In her talk, Cassani urged LECOM Bradenton’s first-year and second-year medical students to make organ donation part of a patients’ annual history and physical. Starla Cassani said she can’t imagine what her life would be like today had Colby’s physician not asked her about organ donation.

“As physicians you have to have the courage to ask those questions,” Cassani said. “When they asked us about organ donation, they gave us back some control. Here was something we could say, ‘yes’ to amongst an uncontrollable situation. This brought us some hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.”

In 2008, LECOM received approval for a $12,000 annual endowment from the Colby Foundation to be used to offer an annual lecture series that educates LECOM medical students and the public about organ and tissue donation. Each of LECOM’s three locations – in Erie, Pa., Bradenton, Fla., and Greensburg, Pa. – will receive $4,000 annually.

Also lecturing on behalf of the Colby Foundation were Charles Wright, M.D., Medical Director; and Melissa Kelley, R.N., C.P.T.C., Vascular Coordinator of LifeLink in Tampa, Fla.

The LifeLink Foundation is a non-profit community service organization dedicated to the recovery of an increasing number of high quality organs and tissue for transplantation therapy. The Foundation attempts to work in a sensitive, diligent, and compassionate manner with donor families to facilitate the donation of desperately needed organs and tissues for waiting patients.

For more information on the Colby Foundation or LifeLink, please visit www.colbyfoundation.org or www.lifelinkfound.org.

February 13, 2009
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