Friendship grows out of tragedy

The day was December 22. It was overcast with a cold front moving in on one of the coldest winters in recent years for Sherman, Texas. Brandon Witt and his stepfather, Thomas Pettit, were cutting firewood when Thomas slipped, fell, and was fatally injured.

Joey Ianeiro and Brandon Witt
Joey Ianeiro, left, and Brandon Witt stand at the 2012 Donate Life float at the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The next few hours were a blur for Brandon. "I remember driving to the hospital, but nothing more than that. I could hear family members out in the lobby of Texoma Medical Center gathering as my mother and I sat in the back with Thomas. Mom was approached about eye and tissue donation, and knowing Thomas, the decision was easy. Later on the doctor walked in and said, ‘I'm very sorry to bother you in a moment like this, but since you made the decision for Thomas to be a donor, time is of the essence.’ He was taken to Dallas for the eye and tissue recovery.”

The next August, Brandon's mother, Debi, received a letter (anonymous at the time) from a Mrs. Ianeiro explaining that her son Joey had received a donation from Thomas. With Thomas' death still fresh on her mind, Mrs. Ianeiro left it up to Brandon and Debi to decide if they wanted to contact them.

Brandon let it sit for a day or two, then looked Joey up on Facebook. It was a bit awkward as Joey didn't understand why a random person from Texas was adding him as a friend.

Joey caught up with Brandon a few days later and the questions began. The boys talked for hours about Thomas, what Joey was doing after surgery, and what he planned to do later in life. Brandon and Joey became good friends, keeping up with each other daily. Joey and Brandon both have a strong passion for baseball, which gave them more common ground on which to base their friendship.

Brandon Witt
Brandon Witt holds a floragraph of his stepfather, Thomas Pettit. 

In November 2010, Brandon and Debi were invited to speak at UT Southwestern for the annual Celebration of Thanksgiving for the Gift of Transplant Medicine. "It was a great experience to see the people who received transplants, as well as the families of the donors. What I didn't foresee was meeting Joey in person for the very first time."

Unknown to Brandon or his mother, the UT Southwestern Transplant Services Center staff, who hosted the event, had arranged to bring Joey and his mother to Dallas. The emotional meeting was followed by a chance for the two families to visit.

The next time Brandon and Joey were together was when they had the opportunity to ride the 2012 Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. During the time in California the two young men participated in numerous donor awareness events culminating in the parade.

They both share their story in their communities.

Reflecting upon his friendship with Joey, Brandon said, "It is hard to believe that something so amazing can come out of a fatal tragedy. But this event has blessed Joey and me with the ability not only to share our lives together through friendship, but also spread the word to others that are curious about becoming a donor, or have never thought about it. This opportunity has and will continue to change many lives in the future."