HARRISON, N.Y. – Former two-term Harrison town clerk and 2011 Citizen of the Year Joseph “Joey” Acocella was remembered Thursday afternoon by Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Acocella's family and other government officials as not only a special person, but a strong advocate for organ donation.
Acocella, born with lumbar sacral agenesis, died Aug. 8, 2011, at 30 years old from medical complications while awaiting his second kidney transplant. His legs were amputated at the age of 3, and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He had his first kidney transplant in high school. His family has joined with the New York Organ Donor Network to increase the number of organ donors in the state.
Acocella's sister, Laura Acocella-McCorry. said at the Harrison Town Hall conference that the average wait time for a kidney transplant is five years, and some people might wait eight. Currently 19 percent of eligible New Yorkers are signed up as organ donors, which is the third lowest in the country, she added.
With a wait list of “close to 10,000” for organ transplants in New York, Acocella-McCorry said, her family and friends “tried so hard for him [Joseph] not to become a statistic” and “beat the odds for him to get a transplant” but they “failed due to the lack of registered organ donors in New York state.”
“Joseph’s passing affected a lot of people, not just our family,” she said. “The Town of Harrison lost their bright shining star due to the lack of registries. Please consider being an organ donor as there is no doubt your registry could save a life, or two, or three – up to eight.”
During his speech, Astorino said he was never in favor of signing up to be an organ donor, but Acocella’s life played a part in changing his mind and he now is on the registry.
“I think what we’re doing today in his honor and his name’s important,” said Astorino, who was a friend of Acocella’s. “Now he was able to get a kidney transplant, which extended his life with all of us for 12 years, and that was a special time for all of us. So, if we as society can give that kind of hope and life to others, that’s special.”
One girl who received that hope and life is 10-year-old Acacia Puleo – a Chappaqua resident received a liver, pancreas and intestine when she was younger.
“I hope that many of you have been involved in the decision to donate,” she said. “I want to thank you and hopefully show you how amazing this gift can be. It’s the gift of a second chance. Every night, when we go to bed, we thank God for my angel parts and remember how blessed we are. One person could save eight lives. Be that person – please sign up to be an organ donor.”
You can sign up to be an organ donor when you renew your driver’s license or register to vote, or through the New York Department of Health.