LONG ISLAND - 29-year-old Karen Crowell is alive today thanks to a 16-year-old Long Island athlete's decision to become an organ donor.
For Crowell, her daughter, Colette, is a living miracle.
"She’s here now perfectly healthy and happy," Crowell, a new mother, said. "I feel like I still can’t find a way to say thank you."
That ‘thank you’ goes to parents Kelli and Frank Cutinella, whose son Thomas gave Karen the gift of life.
Karen was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy when she was just 11 years old. But just before her college graduation Karen learned she’d need a heart transplant to survive.
"I was 22 when I received the call that I got the transplant," Crowell said. "One month to the day after my 22nd birthday."
Two days before that date, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella tragically died after suffering a traumatic head injury during a High School football game on Long Island.
Just months before he passed, Thomas had made the decision to become an organ donor.
"Little did we know three months later we’d be fulfilling his wishes," said Thomas’ dad, Frank. "We love him and we miss him."
Karen, the grateful recipient of their son’s heart, hoped all along she’d one day meet the Cutinella family.
"It was more than I could’ve dreamed of to have this relationship with the family," Crowell said.
They’re part of each other’s lives. Together they took part in the Tunnel to Towers Run in Thomas’s memory. The Cutinella’s were there when Karen married her now husband, Cameron and didn’t miss meeting Colette soon after she was born.
"Tom’s heart went to the right person," said Kelli Cutinella.
The Thomas Cutinella Memorial foundation formed in his memory gives back to the community. A 2.54 mile run – symbolic of Tom’s jersey number will take place this Sunday. The goal is to promote Tom’s love of country, community, and life through organ donation through organizations like LiveOnNY that helped connect the Cutinella’s with Karen and Tom’s other recipients when they were ready.
A picture of Tom sits on Karen’s console - as a reminder of the most important person in her life - she never had the chance to meet.
"For anyone thinking about being an organ donor," Crowell said. "I say just do it."
Without Thomas, there’d be no Karen and without Karen, there’d be no baby Colette.
"She carries Tom’s heart and it says so much because how she is is who he was," Kelli said.