WILLSBORO — Harold Tart was battling liver cancer and was given little hope to survive, even if a matching donor was found.
The lifetime Essex native is still going strong nine years later, thanks to a successful liver transplant performed by Dr. Stanton Dodson at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
But it was not until this weekend that Tart came face to face with the human side of that life-saving transplant when he met the sisters of the woman who had donated her liver.
“At first I was kind of scared to meet them,” the 77-year-old retired Department of Transportation worker said of his visit with Lisa Szewczyk and Leslie Couty. The two women traveled from their homes in Chicago to meet the man who received the organ donation from their sister, Linda Reilly.
“But after we met, I realized they were everyday people, just like us,” he added. “I love ‘em.”
Tart has long had a deep appreciation for the donor who gave him the chance to continue life, however.
“There’s not a day or night that goes by that I don’t give that girl thanks,” he said of Reilly’s ultimate charitable action. “Now, I call her by her first name.”
For years, Tart and his family had no idea who the donor might be, but one of his four daughters, Pam Drollette, contacted the donor’s family through the Gift of Hope, an organization that coordinates communications between the family of donors and recipients.
Eventually, with approval from both families, names were exchanged, setting up the sisters’ visit to the North Country.
“This past year, in a letter that I sent to them, I said that if they ever would like to visit, they have an open invitation,” Drollette said. “I soon received an email that said ‘We’d love to come.’”