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LECOM Students Learn the Value of Organ Donation

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

It is the message that resonated through the lecture hall as Starla Cassani made an impassioned plea to second-year medical students at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Erie, Pa. and Bradenton, Fla., campuses on the importance of organ donation.

“As future physicians you have the power to educate your patients on organ and tissue donation,” said Cassani, who spoke in Bradenton on March 15 and Erie on March 21.

Following the tragic death of their 14-month-old son, Colby, in 1993, Cassani and her husband John – an osteopathic physician – have dedicated their lives to educating medical students on the importance of organ and tissue donation. Starla Cassani spoke about how Colby’s death has brought life to three people: his kidneys gave life to a 27-year-old in Pittsburgh; his liver gave life to a 2 1/2 –year-old girl in Sacramento and his heart gave life to a 5-month-old boy in Colorado.

Starla Cassani speaking in Erie, PA.

That 5-month-old, Brayden, just turned 20.

Cassani recalled 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, the Cassanis, established the Colby Foundation in memory of their son. LECOM is one of six schools to be involved in the Colby Foundation Lecture Series.

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

“When they asked us about organ donation, they gave us back some control. This brought us some hope in an otherwise hopeless situation,” she said.

In 2008, LECOM received approval for a $12,000 annual endowment from the Colby Foundation to be used to offer a lecture series

John Cassani, DO presents an endowment check on behalf of the Colby Foundation to LECOM Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Robert George, DO.

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 in Bradenton was Brian Kimbrell, M.D., Medical Director of the Trauma Center at Blake Medical Center 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 life-saving and life-enhancing organs and tissue for transplantation therapy.

Students also heard from local resident Christopher Rizzo, a kidney donation recipient.

“I am alive and well today because people were willing to step-up,” said Rizzo.

Speakers in Erie, Pa. included Kurt Shutterly – Vice President of Operations at CORE – the Center for Organ Recovery and Education – and Ronald Shapiro, M.D., transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

For more information on the Colby Foundation, LifeLink, or CORE please visit, or