Heart of Gold: Recipient Giving Back to Donors' Families - NBC 6 South Florida

Heart of Gold: Recipient Giving Back to Donors' Families

South Florida man starts foundation after transplant saves his life



    Heart of Gold: Recipient Giving Back to Donors' Families
    Neal Bira

    When Neal Bira suffered a massive heart attack in May, an organ donor came through, narrowly saving his life.

    Bira's story was so amazing that when he survived and stayed alive while waiting for a donor heart, his NYU doctors made a video about it.

    But what happened next may be even more amazing.

    Bira, 54, decided to give back to the family of the man who gave him a second life, and enjoyed that feeling so much that now he's dedicating himself to building a foundation to help the families of organ donors.

    "This is not about me,” said Bira, from his donated storefront office in a Coral Springs strip mall. “This is 100 percent about the organ donor families, the real heroes that nobody looks at like a hero. People like myself, the recipients, we survived. The donor families are left and a lot of them in need of support, help."

    Bira's nonprofit agency, the Organ Donor Awareness Foundation, connects donor families with recipients.

    "I understand why the recipients and the families do not meet too often,” Bira said. ”It is a very, very difficult time."

    Bira said the meeting with the family of Sallustino De Jesus, the man who saved his life, was an emotional one. It got even more emotional when De Jesus' son, Jeffrey, whispered something in his ear.

    "'My dad is a hero,'" Bira recounted him saying. "Not only do I say it hit me, but I say it almost everyday...and I tell it to someone every day. And to hear him say it, it broke my heart. And for this young man at 14 years old to say 'my dad is a hero,' I just was so taken back. I was so taken back."

    Now, thanks to Bira, Jeffrey De Jesus is attending culinary school while some of the bills get paid.

    "It's like he's still here, walking around in Neal,” said Jeffrey De Jesus, adjusting the portrait of him and his father hanging on the wall above his couch.
    De Jesus is now a young man in New York growing up without a father but with his father's legacy and Neal’s friendship.

    "He's doing it because he feels, like, he needs to help me out because my father helped him out,” said De Jesus. “He doesn't have to, but it's a great thing he's doing and I appreciate it."

    And what would Sallustino De Jesus say about this whole heart transplant story?

    "'Wow!'" laughs Jeffrey. “And with a smile on his face. I think that's what my father would say."

    Bira's fledgling foundation pays bills for the families, and it never gives cash directly to them. The foundation is holding a fundraiser on Saturday, June 26th, at 6 p.m. at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale.