TOWN OF TONAWANDA – In many ways, the benefit for Tim Day, a Town of Tonawanda police officer who needs a heart transplant, looked like just another lawn fete or festival.
People were perched at picnic tables, digging into Ted’s Hot Dogs. They also danced to music from Strictly Hip, laughed in the beer tent and placed tickets in bags to win more than 300 gift baskets.
But at a table near the entrance to the grounds of the Ellwood Fire Hall, Michele Mehaffy of Upstate New York Transplant Services handed out the forms that allowed people to possibly save a life by adding their names to the New York State organ and tissue donor registry. Mehaffy said she handed out at least 50 of the postage-paid forms to people who wanted to mail them in; another 20 people filled out the forms on the spot.
“That is a great turnout,” she said.
Day, 45, asked organizers to include this opportunity for those attending to sign up for organ and tissue donation.
Day, who lives in Kenmore with his wife, Sherry Brinser-Day, and three children, needs a transplant to replace his heart, which was ravaged by an autoimmune disease. He entered Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital in early April and waited 128 days for a donated heart that never arrived. He eventually received an implanted left ventricle assist device pump, which allowed him to return home in mid-July.
An hour or so into the event, Day estimated that he knew only 30 to 40 percent of the people he saw at the benefit. The crowd, peppered with members of the Ellwood Fire Department and Day’s fellow police officers, also included nine of Day’s 10 older siblings.
Only Michael Day, who lives in Spencerport and was out of the state traveling for a new job, was unable to make it, and his family attended in his place.
“It’s the first time in 30 years of teaching that I’m going to miss the first day of school,” said Tim’s sister, Peggy Day, who lives in Natick, Mass. “I just said, ‘I have to be there.’ ” Peggy Day helped out at the entrance table. The sight of the line, which included people of every description, was “just overwhelming,” she said. “I can’t think of any other way to describe it.”
“It’s been crazy; I can’t talk to anyone for longer than 10 seconds,” said Brinser-Day, who stood with her husband of 11 years at the center of a group of well-wishers.
Town of Tonawanda Police Officer Joe LoBrutto and his girlfriend, Julie Camilleri, were among those chatting with Day. The Police Department “is just like a family,” said Camilleri.
“Anything like this, we’re all over it,” said LoBrutto. “Out of 100 guys in the department, 98 are here and the other two are out of town.”
Lt. Nicholas Bado of the department compared the community response to Day’s event to the passers-by who sprang into action Thursday to lift a car off a young bicyclist after he was struck.
“That’s the kind of thing this community is known for,” he said. “Everybody is ready to help out.”
One person at the event did not know Day or his family but shared a bond with him anyway. Doris Serota of Clarence had a heart transplant 13 years ago at the Cleveland Clinic. Before the transplant, she used the left ventricular assist device pump that Day now has.
“We came out to support the donate life organization,” she said.
Organizer Vinnie Christiano, another of Day’s fellow officers, said about 1,500 tickets were sold before the event began.
“Some people even said they couldn’t make it, but they bought a ticket just to support him,” said Christiano. Many more people were seen paying cash at the gate.