BANGOR, Maine — Students from Bangor High School will take part Monday in an international campaign to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation.
George Marcello of Toronto, founder of the nonprofit organization Step by Step, kicked off the “SOS The Americas” campaign last October in Wasilla, Alaska, aiming to wrap it up in Ushuaia, Argentina, in October 2011. Monday’s event in Bangor marks his first stop in the lower 48 states. He plans to visit a total of 159 cities in the U.S., and a total of 36 countries in the Americas, recruiting students to carry the torch in each community.
About 20 students from the Bangor High School track team will meet Marcello and the Truck of Life at about 2 p.m. Monday in Pickering Square. There they will accept the lighted torch and carry it about two miles back to the school. Their route will follow Broadway out of the downtown area.
In a telephone interview this week, Marcello, 54, said the goal of the campaign is to raise public awareness of organ and tissue donation. His dedication to the issue stems from personal experience.
“I got involved back in 1995, when I was waiting for a liver transplant,” he said. “I had about two days left to live. I had made my funeral arrangements. But I was one of the lucky ones who got a call.”
After he recovered from the transplant procedure, Marcello decided to show his gratitude for the gift by founding Step by Step and walking with a friend from Toronto to Ottawa, a trek of about 400 miles. Two years later, with support from the YMCA, The Salvation Army and other groups, Marcello hiked other parts of the province of Ontario to raise public awareness. The project resulted in the provincial government establishing a new organ donation agency, he said.
In 2000, Marcello commenced a walk across Canada, taking 769 days to complete the journey. He drew international attention and was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II. The pope proclaimed his support for organ and tissue donation and termed it “a genuine act of love,” Marcello said.
“I passed him the torch and he blessed it,” Marcello said. “He said to pass the torch to students.”
Since then, Marcello has been focusing his efforts on teens and young adults, he said. The current “SOS The Americas” campaign will involve more than 500 student torch carriers.
“Once these kids get into this issue, their passion knows no bounds,” he said.
Marcello said Maine is one of very few states where family members cannot override a loved one’s designated wish to be an organ donor in the event of unexpected death.
On the Web: sostheamericas.com