You might recognize Arthur Thomas, a heart transplant recipient who walked his donor’s daughter down the aisle at her wedding last August. That sweet moment became a viral video sensation. It has been viewed by millions and has made a lasting impression on people around the world. But Arthur’s story and impact hits closer to home in a small community in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where a group of students came together to support the Gift of Life Howie’s House and raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation.
Twenty-six years ago, Arthur “Tom” Thomas was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a condition that causes the lower heart chambers to beat too quickly. During most of that time, Arthur was able to live comfortably without any serious problems. But in 2006, his condition worsened and he was in congestive heart failure. He finally received the news shortly after that a match had been found and he’d be receiving his precious gift of life with only hours to spare.
In 2007, just one year after receiving his life-saving transplant, Arthur decided he wanted to give back. He set out to educate students about the transplant process at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey where he used to be a college advisor to students. His wife, Nancy, currently serves as a Dean of the school. Arthur’s story inspired students to take the initiative to help spread awareness, and support those whose stories are similar to his. As a result, students created the Lives Saving Lives Club and asked Arthur to mentor as a faculty advisor. The Lives Saving Lives Club is completely student-operated and hosts a number of fundraisers and benefits, which all raise money for Gift of Life Howie’s House. Students have turned what started as a small club into a community-wide effort to raise awareness and funds – and their success has been truly remarkable! The club’s devotion to the Howie’s House began back in 2009 when the initial campaign to start the House began – and has since raised over $30,000! Their outstanding support and dedication to our mission helps provide our guests with comfortable lodging, hot meals, a fully stocked pantry, a free shuttle service and so much more. Such support helps alleviate stress transplant patients and families face day-to-day – mentally, physically and emotionally.
When the students of the Lives Saving Lives Club learned that construction for the Howie’s House was breaking ground in 2011, they began to focus on both donation awareness and supporting transplant patients and families who come to Philadelphia for transplant-related care. The club hosts an annual Organ Donor Awareness Benefit Dinner where students, parents, family members and guests can enjoy a four-course meal and live string quartet. Proceeds raised from the event went toward programs at the Howie’s House – such as the Adopt-A-Family Program. This program, thanks to generous supporters like the Lives Saving Lives Club, allows the Howie’s House to keep nightly fees low, and ensures that no family will be turned away because they can’t afford to pay. In addition to their benefit, the club frequently visits the Howie’s House to prepare and serve meals for transplant families through the Home Cook Hero Program. Arthur knows that visiting with transplant families and patients lets his students see the impact they have on their community.
“The students are seeing folks who are going through this. It’s very real to them, and that’s special.”
The members of the Lives Saving Lives Club are truly making a difference in the community, and have helped many who are going through a similar journey that Arthur went through ten years ago. This experience is not only beneficial for the Howie’s House and transplant families, but also an incredible eye-opener for members in the club. “With this club, I wanted to give the students a different perspective, and to show them just how precious life is,” said Arthur.
Groups and clubs, like the Lives Saving Lives Club, are one of the reasons the Howie’s House is able to offer a “home away from home” to thousands of transplant patients and their families. Arthur and his students are an example of how one small step can lead to helping the greater good.