This is the second in a little series about the people who climb with me in Hustle up the Hancock, and take the stairs 94 floors to the top of the John Hancock Center for the Respiratory Health Association, and for some of our own personal reasons…
I met Anne Gulotta in the summer of 2004 – there was a photo shoot for the 2005 Gift of Hope calendar. Annie was Miss March and I was Miss February. I’d heard that a donor family member was being photographed a half hour before me and I just had to meet that person and help her understand what she and her loved one have done for someone else…
Our sessions kept getting rescheduled due to weather – both of our shots were outside – me in front of the Hancock and Anne in front of “The Bean”. Gift of Hope knew I wanted to meet her and finally just connected the two of us.
We finally met in a bar close to where we both work – I had a cup of tea, of course. (OK, I had a Guinness…) Annie explained that she had lost her husband, Jay, to suicide in May, 2002. She and Jay had talked to their children about organ donation as they got their driver’s licenses and the family was in agreement that it was a good thing. That view was put to the test in May when Anne and her children had to make a decision. Soon after, she received a letter detailing the lives Jay impacted and I think she truly understood the difference he and they made. She has since become an outspoken supporter of organ donation and volunteer for Gift of Hope.
We chit-chatted and she told me about Jay and I told her about Kari. I told her about what Kari has done for me, and I hope I helped her truly understand what Jay has done for others… She told me she was corresponding with one of Jay’s kidney recipients, Julie – but they had not met yet… I told her about leaping tall buildings – about taking the stairs 94 floors to the top of the Hancock. She suggested that she might want to do that with me… She signed up that November…
Anne was speaking for Gift of Hope, and so was I… We decided that we might be powerful speaking together, with Anne speaking from the donor family perspective, and me from the recipient perspective. The first time we spoke together was at Northern Trust at a health fair function. Anne spoke about her journey being a donor wife. I spoke about Kari, and what it was like having my life saved by a donor and donor family.
Since then, we’ve spoken to groups together a dozen or more times and Anne and I shared the 2005 Gift of Hope “Echo of Life Award” for what we do together. It will always be one of my most meaningful awards…
When we met, Anne had been corresponding with the lady who received Jay’s left kidney, Julie. She was excited about knowing her – knowing a life Jay had saved – and a little nervous about meeting her in person. I told her about meeting Kari’s Mom and Dad and what that meant to me… After communicating with Julie for almost two years, Anne met Julie in person in August, 2005 – Julie is diabetic and had a prior kidney transplant; she would not have lived much longer without Jay’s kidney. Anne got to hug a person that Jay kept on this planet.
Anne is an amazingly strong lady… In a recent newspaper article she said, “I can see Jay not so much as a victim of suicide, but as someone who gave life…” Can you imagine the strength it took to move to that perspective?
Annie knows that we do these climbs to tell people about Kari, and about Jay, and about organ donation and what it does for people… We’re raising funds for a good cause – but also, it’s for our own cause. We get a lot more exposure when our team ranks high in fundraising – we get to tell a lot more people our story. Annie has kept us in those top ranks the past few years… Together, Annie and I and all of the people who climb with us have done our bestest to raise awareness about organ donation…
Over the last five years, our teams have raised almost $150,000 for the Respiratory Health Association of Metro Chicago doing the Hustle up the Hancock. Anne has been one of the biggest parts of my team’s success. The past two years, Anne has overtaken me and she’s been the top fundraiser on my Hustle teams! Actually, she’s been the top fundraiser for the entire climb twice! She is a very special friend, and being with her always reminds me how very special Kari’s Mom & Dad are…
On a remembrance note – a year ago today we lost a precious friend, Lizzy. It seems like yesterday, and it seems like forever – and I can still feel her smile. She climbed the Hancock with me three times and I posted about her last May. At her services, her friend Em read the following poem by Mary Frye:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush,
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there: I did not die.
That’s how I like to remember Lizzy too… Like Kari, Lizzy will live in my heart until my heart stops. The biggest reason Annie and I do what we do is so that the precious Lizzy’s of the world have another chance.