After 22 years, tissue recipient meets donor family for first time

Katy Portell waited 22 years to hug and thank the Wolf family. She said their son is the most influential person in her life, even though they’ve never met.

P.J. Wolf’s parents, Jack and Sheila, said their “blonde, blue-eyed, little handsome man-child” was selfless and always looked for ways to help others. He even offered to donate his kidney after watching a news report as a young child.

“P.J. came in and he said, ‘You know, Mom, I’ve got two kidneys and I only need one,’” Sheila recalled. He was killed while riding his bike in 1991.

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Tissue donor P.J. Wolf’s parents say their son was selfless and always looked for ways to help others

Courtesy of the Wolf family

“We didn’t have any doubt. We knew what this little boy wanted,” Sheila said.

His parents donated his organs.

“We couldn’t help our baby but we could help someone else’s baby,” Sheila said.

Portell was born with congenital heart defects. She endured two heart surgeries, but they were only temporary solutions. Then at just 4 years old, she underwent open-heart surgery, receiving a donor heart valve that changed her life. It was P.J.’s.

“My entire life from that moment was a gift from my donor,” Portell said.

She always wanted to thank the family. She tracked down old hospital records and through a medical organization then sent them a letter.

“For some reason I always imagined my donor was older, had lived more life than that. I’m so sorry,” Portell wrote. “In your worst moment, you selflessly thought of others and that is why I’m alive today. … He is the most influential person in my life, my angel and my hero.”

The two families exchanged notes for six months. Then they were invited to ride together on the Donate Life float in this year’s 128th Rose Parade. 

The Wolf family who’s given the ultimate gift feels they’ve also received so much in return.

“Don’t you ever underestimate that you are our hero. You have fulfilled my child’s dreams. How could we not be anything but proud?” Sheila said to Portell.