Giving Thanks

The Transplant Services Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center works closely with hospitals across North Texas to support families as we facilitate donations. As a community-based full-service tissue and eye bank, Transplant Services Center is committed to ensuring the needs of surgeons and patients are met in North Texas. However, North Texas donors impact lives all across the United States. Here is the story of an out-of-state recipient. 

It was always a personal goal of Joey Ianiero to play college baseball with the hopes of making it to the Major Leagues. In the summer of 2008, as a member of the Rutgers University baseball team, Joey decided the best way to improve his playing skills was to join a league in North Carolina.

Bloomsburg University infielder Joey Ianiero evades a sliding runner at second base – much the same play on which he was injured while playing at Rutgers. Mr. Ianiero received a transplanted ACL from UT Southwestern’s Transplant Services Center. (Photo courtesy of Bloomsburg University)

After a few weeks of playing down south, something happened that changed his life. As the team's second baseman, Joey was turning a double play when the runner slid late and crashed into his left knee. Joey instantly knew he was injured, but not sure how badly. Joey had torn his ACL, MCL, and meniscus, known as the "unhappy triad."

After returning home to Bloomsburg, Pa., Joey went to see a doctor about his injuries. The doctor offered several options for how to repair Joey's ruptured ACL, including receiving a donor tendon. The doctor assured him the donor tendon was the most efficient way to repair the ligament. Joey underwent surgery and afterward, a nurse handed his mom an envelope. "Your son was the recipient of a gift today," said. Not fully realizing how much of an impact this gift would have on his life, Joey returned to the playing field just four months later, which is unheard of for this type of injury.

 Brandon Pettit (left) and Joey Ianiero (right) by the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade. Joey is holding a framed picture of Brandon's dad, Thomas Pettit, who is also featured as a floragraph behind them.

Later that year, around Thanksgiving, Joey's mom decided to write a letter to the donor family. She only had a case ID number, so she wasn't sure who she was writing to. Still, she felt it was necessary to say thank you. Six months later, unaware his mom wrote the letter, Joey received a Facebook friend request from Brandon Pettit, who was from Texas. Brandon looked around his age and Joey thought maybe he played baseball against him, so he accepted the request. The next day, Joey had a Facebook message from Brandon. Brandon explained how he came across the letter Joey's mom wrote, found Joey's name on the Rutgers roster, then searched for him on Facebook. "He wanted me to know that I had received his  father's tendon," Joey said.

The following November, Joey and his mom were invited to meet Brandon and his family at a ceremony for donor families at the Transplant Services Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "This was truly a special and emotional day for us," Joey said. "Even though we emailed, sent text messages, and had talked on the phone, it felt so good to personally say 'thank you' and spend time with Brandon and his family."

As for his baseball career, Joey eventually transferred to Bloomsburg University and in two seasons earned many accolades. Joey was motivated to excel as an athlete and student with support from his family, coaches, teammates, friends, a phenomenal surgeon, and the Pettit family.

The gift Joey received from Brandon's father allowed him to return to the game he loves, led him to a "ride of a lifetime" by Brandon's side on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade, and forever improved his quality of life.