A liver recipient from Shippensburg is heading to California to participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California. But Wes Mallicone’s story is less about that trip and more about the next journey he’s now ready to begin.
Mallicone, a nationally board-certified athletic trainer and Director of Sports Medicine at Shippensburg University, received a liver transplant in 2011 at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. In the four years since—in between sporting events, of course—Wes has told his powerful story of gratitude to as many families of organ donors as possible. Except one. His donor’s family.
“I would be interested in meeting them, to personally thank them, ” Mallicone said, choking back tears, “But it’s been difficult.” Mallicone battled liver disease since he was a youngster. He is one of the lucky ones, as he received a new liver in August 2011.
“It was not good, not good,” Tanya Miller, the University’s Assistant Director of Sports Medicine recalled, “He was 80 pounds, if not less.”
“It was very emotional, very emotional roller coaster for all of us,” Becky Fitz, Shippensburg University’s Associate Director of Sports Medicine, added. Twenty-four transplant recipients, including Mallicone, will ride on the Donate Life America float in honor of their donors, and twelve living donors will walk alongside the float. Donate Life America’s float has appeared in the Rose Parade since 2004, with the goal of raising awareness about organ and tissue donation. Mallicone will travel to California with his parents and girlfriend.
He is being sponsored by the Gift of Life Donor Program, based in Philadelphia. Mallicone knows nothing about his donor or the circumstances that led to that person’s liver being available. Organ donation is a confidential process for both the donor’s family and the recipient. It may only become personal if one side chooses to write a letter to the other. Mallicone now believes he finally has the strength to write one. “It’s uncomfortable,” Mallicone said, with tears in his eyes, “I didn’t want to write early; writing a simple thank you isn’t enough to say ‘thank you’ for one selfless act.” “All I can do—I’ll just have to allow them to have the reaction and their thoughts and feelings—and how they choose to feel. But it is scary… the unknown,” Mallicone said. These gifts of life don’t come with an owner’s manual or clear-cut instructions on what to do next. Mallicone says he’ll start composing his letter soon. Maybe he can begin with this sentence: “During this season of blessings, thank you for helping me help so many others.” For more information on the Gift of Life Donor Program, contact them at 1-800-DONORS-1 or visit donors1.org.