NATIONAL DONATE LIFE MONTH-GARDEN CITY,NY-A GIVER, EVEN IN DEATH
A Giver, Even After Death
By Stephanie Petrellese
Jennifer, Jenna, Ava and Matt AlessandriniFormer Garden City resident Jennifer Spence Alessandrini, 37, was laid to rest on Saturday, but not before helping eight people live longer and more productive lives through organ donations.
“Jennifer was a wonderful human being and someone who will be impacting the lives of strangers, as she did throughout her brief life, for decades to come,” said Daniel Hemler, a cousin of Jennifer’s husband.
Jennifer died on April 14 after suffering a brain aneurysm at St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren, Michigan. Even though she was not a registered organ donor, her husband Matt, 39, consented to organ donation as he watched her continuously give to others as mother to their daughters Jenna, 7, and Ava, 3, as well as through her job as an occupational therapist assistant.
“What she did was help people,” Matt said in an article published in a Detroit newspaper. “Her coworkers said she would always take the difficult patient - the patients nobody could get to do anything would respond to her. I knew in my heart this was what she would have wanted.”
Most of her life was spent in Garden City, where she was born and raised. Jennifer graduated from Garden City High School in 1990 and from Schoolcraft College in Michigan in 1994 with a degree in occupational therapy. In 2000, she met her husband Matt at Matt’s father’s bar, Frankie’s, in Garden City, where he worked as a bartender. Their first date was at a Detroit Tigers game, and the couple eventually decided to move to the Michigan city in 2003.
On Sunday, April 11, Jennifer was energetically playing with Jenna and Ava. On Monday morning, she had a severe headache and collapsed, and hours later, she was declared brain dead.
The organs were harvested once Matt’s consent was received. Her liver and one kidney went to recipients in Michigan and the other kidney was flown across the border to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
Matt had requested that one of her kidneys go to his distant cousin, Diane Cappello. A donor is permitted to select an organ recipient as long as that person is on the registry. Diane suffers from Polycystic Kidney Disease, a genetic disorder that causes multiple cysts to form on the kidneys and fill with fluid, causing them to become enlarged. Affecting one in 500 people, it is one of the most common genetic disorders. There is no cure; approximately half of those with PKD eventually suffer from kidney failure. Treatment can include dialysis, but transplant is the best hope for survival.
A kidney transplant Diane, 53, had received from her husband three years ago had failed. Her name was added to the national kidney transplant registry and her condition gradually worsened as she was receiving dialysis treatments three times a week.
Diane received the kidney in the early morning hours of April 15. Her family decided to wait until after the surgery to inform her and her husband that Jennifer was the donor.
Besides her husband and children, Jennifer leaves behind a sister, Michele Myers, and mother, Margaret Mateer, both of Garden City.
A scholarship fund has been established for Jennifer’s daughters, Jenna Margaret and Ava Valentina. Send donations to the Alessandrini Children’s Fund, 1000 Town Center Drive, Suite 1300, Southfield, MI, 48075, Attn: Alessandrini Children’s Fund.
According to the N.Y. State Dept. of Health Web site, more than 1,500 people receive kidneys, livers and hearts that have been donated for transplantation every year. More than 8,000 New Yorkers are still on waiting lists; the need for organ donations far exceeds the supply.
Eight lives can be saved by one person who donates organs (hearts, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestines), while 12 or more lives can be improved by a tissue donor (corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons, veins, etc.) by restoring eyesight, helping fight infections in burn patients and preventing the loss of mobility and disability.
Those who choose to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry give legal consent for the recovery of their organs, tissues and eyes for transplantation and research purposes at the time of death. People over the age of 18 can enroll by signing the donor box on their driver’s license or non-driver identification (ID) card application or renewal form. Enrollments are also accepted through the New York State Health Department’s Web site,