Ten-year-old Acacia Puleo looks to the sky every night before bed and thanks God for the angel that saved her life.
Acacia, a ten-year-old from Chappaqua, wouldn't be alive today if she didn't receive a liver, intestines and pancreas from an organ donor. "My name is Acacia Puleo, and I have angel parts," she confidently told a group of about 30 people at Harrison Town Hall Wednesday.
Those "angel parts" were brought to her by the same system of donors that kept Joseph Acocella Jr., the man about people gathered to pay respects to, alive for 12 years after he received a transplant at age 18.
Unfortunately, there weren't enough donors to help Acocella a second time; he last summer while waiting for his second transplant. Friends, family and political leaders from the region gathered Wednesday to build support for organ donations that could have saved the life of the local hero.
Laura McCorry, Joseph Acocella’s sister, fought back tears as she explained that only 19 percent of eligible donors are registered in New York State—the third worst rate in the country. There are close to 10,000 people on the state's organ transplant waiting list. McCorry said her brother fought for years to avoid becoming a statistic, but in the end lost his battle on Aug. 8, 2011.
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"Joseph's passing affected a lot of people, not just our family," said McCorry. "The Town of Harrison lost their bright and shining star due to lack of registries."
Throughout his life Acocella was an example of all the good organ donations can create. After receiving a new kidney at age 18, he graduated from college, was elected to the Harrison Board of Education and become the youngest Town Clerk in New York State.
He served as an inspiration for an entire community because he was given the gift of life, and it was all made possible because of one organ donor.
"He was just a fantastic person with the biggest heart," said Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino. "Nothing was going to stop him."
Assemblymen Robert Castelli recalled the Acocella's impact on the Harrison community and beyond. "He was a small man with a giant shadow," Castelli said. "When we saw him, we saw adversity. What he saw was opportunity."
Acacia, who said her gift has provided the chance to attend school, swim, ski and participate in gymnastics, urged anyone listening to become a donor to provide someone else with the same opportunity.
"Every night when we go to bed I thank God for my angel parts and remember how blessed we are," she said. "One person can save eight lives, be that person."
The New York Organ Donor Network strives to raise awareness for donations and enrollment in the New York State Donate Life Registry.
Visit www.savelivesny.org or call (646) 291-4444 to learn more.