Tragedy and organ donation turn strangers into forever friends

Seeing her friend's vocal talent, she helped her realize lifelong dream
NORTHERN LIBERTIES (WPVI) -- Hundreds of runners in our area are getting ready for one of spring's first big races - the 24th annual Gift of Life Donor Dash.

It's a very special day for Arlinda Griffin of North Philadelphia and Mary Smith of Warminster, Bucks County, brought together by organ donation.

"He lived a lot of life in his 23 years," says Mary.

Her son Eric was always going, great at meeting people and making friends.

Just a month after graduating from Temple University, and with a promising job -

"He fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from the shore on June 12, 2011," recalls Mary.

The car crash that followed ended his life.

"He very proudly became an organ donor when he got his driver's license," says Mary.

So Eric's legacy lives on.

His organs, bone, and tissue went to 23 states, "And helped people from ages 13 to 71," says Mary.

For Arlinda Griffin, Eric's pancreas and kidney halted the damage to her body from 30 years of diabetes.

She'd been on dialysis for "2 years and 10 days," says Arlinda.

She lost sight completely in her right eye and 95% of the sight in her left eye.

After the pancreas transplant - "No insulin, no pills, no diabetes - it's all gone," she says with relief.

After Eric's death, Mary wrote to all the organ and tissue recipients, including Arlinda.

Arlinda was the first to respond, and they wrote to each other for a while.

"I got up one day and said this is the day I'm going to call her," she recalls, adding, "She answered the phone like an old friend."

The two are now close, talking about anything and everything.

"My sweet potatoes that I make at Thanksgiving, they taste extra special now, because she told me to add some vanilla," Mary notes.

When Mary discovered Arlinda's vocal talent, and that she dreamed of singing at the Phillies, she nominated her friend to sing at the team's Donor Awareness night two years ago.

They'll remember that game forever.

"I think we both had a little bit of butterflies," laughs Mary.

They say it was overwhelming, in a good way.

"To see our flag flying, while she was singing the national anthem was very moving for me," Mary says.

Arlinda's followed that with singing the national anthem at last year's Donor Dash.

And she'll do it again on April 14th, to again honor Eric's gifts.

You can still sign up for the race, and you'll get a discount until Tuesday at noon if you note 6abc in your registration.

Mary vividly recalls a kitchen conversation she had with Eric months before he graduated.

"He told me he was going to go places and do great things, and I never thought it would be connected to organ donation," she says.

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