August 01, 2015
Eric Jankowski and Krista Lesinski knew each other in high school, when they both attended Cheektowaga Central. They drifted apart when Krista moved to New York City for college and Eric joined the military. Later, Krista moved back to Western New York. When Eric was transferred to the area, they reconnected through Facebook and soon started dating.
During their time apart, Krista had received an emergency liver transplant after being diagnosed with Wilson’s disease (click here to read her story). After the experience, Krista volunteered and spoke publically to raise awareness about donation and transplantation. As it happened, Krista’s liver transplant anniversary is the same day as Eric’s birthday. He was inspired by Krista’s experience and has worked to support related organizations.
Eric planned to run in the New York City Marathon on November 4, 2012. When the marathon was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Eric mapped out his own marathon route from his home in Depew to his base in Niagara Falls. His effort raised $5,000 for the American Liver Foundation, and 500 pounds of clothing for disaster relief.
Krista, family members and Eric’s Army unit were waiting at the finish line, where he asked her to marry him. The couple will celebrate their anniversary in August.
Krista’s connection to transplantation also led Eric to volunteer with Unyts. Eric, who served in Iraq, is a staff sergeant and has reached out to other members of the military, as well as the general public.
“I’ve hosted three blood drives at the Niagara Falls base, and I’ve volunteered at dozens of other blood drives,” Eric said. “I love telling people that a pint of blood can save up to three people’s lives, and it’s so easy to donate.”
Headquartered in downtown Buffalo and established in 1981.
Unyts is among the leading procurement organizations in the United States, and is one of the only eight centers nationwide to house organ, tissue and eye procurement in one location. With the addition of Community Blood Service, Unyts has become the first organization of its kind nationwide. Unyts operates as a non-profit serving the eight counties of Western New York and works to assist donor families, coordinate the donation process and increase knowledge and awareness within the community regarding transplantation.
Unyts routinely has helped to secure higher rates of donation in Western New York than the national average. When approached following the death of a loved-one for organ donation, Western New York families are very generous. In 2014 the Unyts conversion rate was 81.5%– the national average was 63.2%. Due to these numbers, Unyts is ranked as one of the top procurement organizations nationwide. As recently as 1997, Unyts had just 200 donors; in 2014 the organization surpassed 1,200.
The organization’s network and success have gone hand-in-hand, and as a result, Unyts has been able to spread the message that transplantation is vital – and transplantation saves lives. Unyts is currently headed by President & CEO Mark Simon, and Chair of the Board of Directors David Carlson.
*As of January 1, 2012, Unyts operates under, d/b/a Unyts, WNY’s only Organ, Eye, Tissue and Community Blood Center. We are no longer Upstate NY Transplant Services.
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