Left: Kelly family at Matthew’s Catholic University 2016 graduation. Right: Tracey Rossi with Shiobian Kelly, holding her husband’s photo.
Catholic University connections are strong, even when made in the worst circumstances.
Since 2014, ICU nurse Tracey Rossi, B.S.N. 1985, has worked as a transplant coordinator for LiveOnNY, the federally designated organization that oversees organ donation in the greater New York area. Part of her job is to educate people about the gift of life.
“You meet people on the worst day of their lives,” she said, referring to those who have lost a loved one who is an organ donor.
In February 2022, Rossi met the family of 57-year-old Kevin Kelly at NYU Langone Hospital in Manhattan after he had suffered a fatal stroke.
“It was 4 a.m., they’re pacing, they’re distraught,” she said, but in talking to the family, she realized there were many similarities to her own. “We live about 60 miles apart.”
Kevin and his wife, Shiobian, were of a similar age to Tracey and her husband, Sid, B.A. 1983, J.D. 1986. Their children were close in age, too. She learned one of Kevin and Shiobian’s sons, Matt, B.S. Arch. 2016, was a Catholic University graduate.
Matt recalled his family, including his brother Christopher, taking turns saying the rosary. “She witnessed that, and the conversation started flowing.”
“We were able to bond,” Rossi agreed. “The minute I said I went to Catholic University … it didn’t stop them from crying, but the comfort level in the room got a little bit better.”
Kevin had decided to be an organ donor “when he was 17 and got his first driver’s license,” Shiobian said. He was kept on life support for several days, as organs have to be tested individually to make sure they are suitable to transplant.
“Tracey was the best,” Shiobian said. “It was toward the tail end of COVID, and they let everyone come in and see him. My sisters and my brother, they felt it was too emotional, but my daughter Keegan and I didn’t mind it; he was still with us.”
Matt agreed the testing period helped give his family closure. “Because his death was so sudden — he had no prior health conditions — the fact that we had those five days to process what was happening helped us all in that grief process.
“One of the most complicated things to test was the heart,” Matt said, adding that his father “had the biggest heart in the world. Someone got his heart, and that’s a good thing.”
Ultimately, Kevin’s organ donation saved five lives through the gift of his heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys.
Earlier this year, Rossi spoke about the experience, and the connection that has grown, during a golf fundraiser for LiveOnNY Foundation in Kevin’s honor.
“I asked her to do it,” Shiobian said, adding that while Rossi spoke, “you could hear a pin drop in the room.”
As a result of that speech, many people Shiobian knows have since signed up to become organ donors. She and Rossi touch base “all the time.” Rossi called her earlier this year to speak to another family who had experienced a similar tragedy.
Rossi said these connections are something LiveOnNY wants to foster to help more people understand, and choose, organ donation. Nationwide, more than 100,000 people are on a waiting list to receive an organ transplant.
Rossi and Matt, who text, have talked about how beautiful campus is, and their joy in seeing old friends whenever they return. This year, Rossi is bringing her 16-year-old daughter to Cardinal Weekend.
“I remember talking with Matthew, saying how the campus is revitalized, and it’s so good to see the same people who are retaining those values we were taught.”
Matt, who with his wife, Ellen, lost their infant daughter Kennedy due to a car accident not long before his father’s death, recently welcomed a son they named Kevin.
“It’s been a crazy couple of years,” he said, explaining his family is working to donate a hospital suite where grieving families can mourn when they lose a baby. “I was telling Tracey, there are a lot of parallels to my dad’s situation. Organ donor families could do with a room to go to that’s just a bedroom” so they aren’t surrounded by hospital equipment.
“Tracey is very much involved in her faith, and our Catholic values made our connection stronger. When something tragic happens, I feel our faith really comes out.”