Teen's death brings life to Valley woman

If there is one spark of hope ignited by the tragic death of 14-year-old David Sullivan, it is the gift of life his family bestowed on a 52-year-old Gardnerville woman.

David was found Jan. 14 hanging from a belt in his room at an adolescent treatment center in Reno. Two days later, his parents accepted the painful acknowledgment that their son would not recover and agreed to donate his organs.

What happened next may be described as coincidence, but those who were involved say it was nothing short of a miracle.

Knowing that David wanted his organs donated, his father Don Sullivan, contacted Debbie Posnien, pastoral associate at St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville, who was helping with arrangements for the teenager's memorial service Saturday.

"Don wanted someone from Gardnerville to be a recipient so he could keep the connection with David," Posnien said. "I told him I would try to do my best, but I had no idea."

Posnien contacted one referral, but the woman wasn't prepared to receive a transplant.

Time was running out before the available organs would be put on a universal transplant list.

"I just went into the church to pray," Posnien said.

She said three young friends of David's came in to seek some comfort over losing the teenager.

One girl overheard the conversation about seeking a recipient and said, "My friend's mother needs a liver."

The recipient was Kathi D'Amico, 52, diagnosed with liver disease 15 years ago.

With just minutes to spare, Posnien had reached the D'Amicos and contacted Sullivan at Washoe Medical Center where he was keeping a vigil over his son.

Kathi D'Amico had been admitted to the hospital at Stanford University and was ready for the transplant.

The surgery, which took 14 hours, was completed Jan. 23.

Her husband David is in Palo Alto for the next month to six weeks to learn how to care for her during her recovery.

"The first thing she asked me after her surgery was, 'Am I going to live?'" D'Amico said. "We were basically sure after the first two days she was going to make it."

He said Monday he could already see an improvement.

"I can see an alertness," he said. "I can hear it in her voice. She is doing fine,"

He said his wife had been on a "rollercoaster ride" waiting for a transplant as her health deteriorated.

"She had undergone a lot of suffering," he said.

Without a transplant, the outlook was bleak.

"Kathi had pretty bad symptoms two months ago that just snuck up on us. She had to be hospitalized," D'Amico said.

As a result of the hospitalization, however, Kathi D'Amico was prepared for a transplant.

"Kathi was in the right place at the right time," her husband said. "We thought it might be a longshot. Kathi's blood type is A-positive, but David turned out to be O, the universal donor."

D'Amico said his family is looking forward to meeting the Sullivans when his wife is back home.

"So many people put this together," he said. "Kathi wants to be the one to talk to Don Sullivan. We realize how painful their life must be right now."

Don Sullivan said his son wanted to be a firefighter when he grew up.

"He was a good-spirited youngster, a fun kid," his father said. "He loved skiing, water slides. there were so many things he liked to do. He loved life."


A memorial service for David Sullivan is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Gall Catholic Church, 1343 Centerville Lane, Gardnerville. A reception will follow in the church pastoral hall. Friends are invited to leave messages for the Sullivan family at the Northern Nevada Memorial Cremation and Burial Society Web site, http://nevada.lifefiles.com/registry/php


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment