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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Life and Heart of David Gray

Illness, transplant and advocacy from a local hero.

David Gray, a lifetime resident of East Greenbush, NY, had always lived a healthy life. He worked for Owens Corning for 37 years, and with his wife of more than 40 years, raised their two children and enjoyed their two grandchildren. He was (and continues to be) an avid camper, fisherman and hunter, as well as a tireless hobbyist – his impressive activities list includes everything from raising bees and harvesting honey and maple syrup, to canning homemade jams, and sauces and even making beer, wine, balsamic vinegar, horseradish, and lip balm.

In 2010, Gray’s life changed forever. He was struck by viral cardiomyopathy, a heart affliction that causes the muscle to become enlarged, thick, and rigid. After delivering the diagnosis, Drs. Jeffrey Uzzilia and Lance Sullenberger expertly cared for Gray through various treatments, surgeries, and implants. Years of complications left Gray’s heart weak. He was evaluated for a heart transplant and placed on the organ recipient registry on December 4, 2015.

The Gift of Life

On August 20, 2016, after a six‐year‐long battle that included many hospital stays, Gray received his life‐saving gift: a new heart from a 30‐year‐old organ donor. “I knew nothing, absolutely zero about the heart or cardiology,” he says. “Now I know more than I ever wanted to know.”

Dedicating his New Life

Since receiving this gift of life, Gray has devoted his time and energy to organ and transplant advocacy. He started by working through support groups and advocacy groups, lending an ear and sharing his story. To this day, he travels weekly to Westchester Medical Center to support anxious patients who are

awaiting a transplant or who are going through the donation/recipient process. These days, he also regularly reaches out to politicians and other people who have the podium, encouraging them to raise their voice in support and awareness of organ and tissue donation. A patient advocate on the Patient Family Council, he also is an avid educator and works with The Center for Donation and Transplant, Donate Life New York State, and LiveOnNY to educate high school students and others on the necessity of donating.

Gracious and Grateful

Every morning, Gray wakes with his donor on his mind. Truly a man with heart, he is committed to giving back for his gifts and ensuring others can receive the gift of life as well. While he often doles out his biggest piece of advice (“don’t sweat the small stuff”), he adds, “We need more heroes, that’s all I can say.”

Things to Consider About Organ Donation

• Approximately 3,000 people are on a heart transplant waiting list at any given time, according to the University of Michigan. An estimated 2,000 donor hearts become available in the United States each year.

• There is a tremendous need for donors across the country. Locally, anyone 16 years old or older can enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry. You can register to be an organ donor at donatelife.ny.gov.

• New York is in critical need of more donors. New York has the third‐highest need for life‐saving organs in the country, yet the second‐to‐lowest number of registered donors. Nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are on the national transplant waiting list. A New Yorker dies every 18 hours waiting for a lifesaving transplant.

• You can help by joining the NYS registry at.donatelife.ny.gov and attening an event supporting the Center for Donation and Transplant (CDT). The upcoming event to support CDT is:

First annual walk and run to benefit donor family services, community education, and local programs that increase organ and tissue donation awareness. Learn more about the event by visiting donatelifelegacywalk.com or call Laura Fissette at 518.928.8385.
Laura Fissette
Laura Fissette
Laura Fissette is a senior hospital and community services specialist at The Center for Donation & Transplant.

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