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Dec 18, 2008 4:28 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homicide victim's last act was a generous one

Dec 18, 2008 4:28 PM

This week marks the first Christmas the Reister family will celebrate without Andrew, the family’s patriarch, a 40-year-old Suffolk County corrections officer from Hampton Bays who died in August after being choked by a patron at a Southampton Village tavern.

But the family has been able to take some comfort this holiday season knowing that Mr. Reister’s decision to donate his organs, tissue and other body parts has saved others’ lives and is still helping people.

“We’re hurting. It’s tough not having him here, but he was able to help a lot of people. That’s huge.” Stacey Reister, Mr. Reister’s widow, said Friday at her Hamptons Bays home. “That’s huge to know that there are so many people walking around because he was so giving.”

“It still hasn’t even set in that he’s not coming home yet,” Ms. Reister would later say. “It still just feels like he’s just at work, and he’ll be home later, tomorrow. Because he did so much overtime.”

In life, Mr. Reister never met the three men who each has one of his organs. His liver and one of his kidneys were donated to anonymous recipients in New York. His other kidney made a dramatic trip nearly all the way across the country to Arizona, where his friend’s brother-in-law anxiously awaited a transplant.

“In one of those race-against-time, in-the-movies kind of stories,” Ms. Reister said. “It’s just amazing how it all came to be.”

“It just almost didn’t happen so many times along the way,” said Lanny Olson, who received the kidney after Mr. Reister’s blood type and tissue were determined to be compatible with his own.

Ms. Reister laid out the path that led from her husband to Mr. Olson: Tom Maloney, the owner of Shinnecock Hardware in Hampton Bays and a friend of the Reisters, is Mr. Olson’s brother-in-law.

When it became clear that Mr. Reister would not awake from the coma he was left in after he was choked at the Publick House, Mr. Maloney put a call in to Lieutenant John Helf, a corrections officer and also a friend of Mr. Reister, to find out if Mr. Reister was an organ donor. Mr. Helf in turn called fellow corrections officer Kerry Small. “Kerry was assigned to me at the hospital,” Ms. Reister said. “He was my right-hand man.”

Mr. Small, who lives around the corner from the Reisters in Hampton Bays, was put in the position of asking Ms. Reister if Mr. Olson, a man she never met, could have her husband’s kidney.

“They were debating asking,” Ms. Reister said. “But how do you ask? So they didn’t want to broach the subject.”

But when Mr. Small asked on Mr. Maloney’s behalf, she readily obliged.

“Actually, it was a pick-me-up. It was a bright spot in this whole thing …” Mr. Small said. “She was glad that she could help somebody out whom she knew.”

Though Mr. Reister was officially declared dead on the morning of August 9, after he did not respond to brain reflex tests, his body was kept alive for two more days so arrangements could be made for his organs to be donated.

Ms. Reister said doctors told her that her husband had no hope of recovery, and his heart only continued to pump with the aid of machines. “Andrew would never, ever go for that,” she said of artificially extending his life. “There’s greener pastures upstairs.”

Doctors were prepared to remove Mr. Reister from life support on Sunday, but that was delayed until Monday so a county medical examiner could be there. The examiner needed to be present when organs were harvested, because it was a murder investigation, Ms. Reister explained.

After all the trouble, they faced even more obstacles: Mr. Olson had only just applied for the New Mexico donor list days before and wasn’t approved yet. And he didn’t have insurance approval yet, either.

Ms. Reister credited an organ donation coordinator at the hospital for getting the wheels turning again and making sure nothing sidelined the transplant.

“Sonya from the New York Organ Donor Network here at Stony Brook gave ’em hell and pulled out that New York attitude,” Ms. Reister said. She never did catch Sonya’s last name, she admitted, but she remembered her vividly: “She’s a little, spitfire Mary Lou Retton-type of person.”

US Airways flew the kidney across the country for free—but weather delayed the plane six hours. For a kidney transplant to have the best success rate, it needs to be completed within 24 hours, Ms. Reister noted. The expected success rate dropped dramatically because of the delay.

But despite the odds, the transplant ended better than would be expected even if there were no delay.

Mr. Olson was told to prepare for a five- to seven-hour surgery. Instead, the surgery took only two hours—beating the hospital’s record of two and a half hours, he said. “As soon as they hooked it up, so to speak, the kidney started producing urine in the operating room,” he added.

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I still can't believe this happened. I miss Andrew and my heart breaks when I think about him. Thank you again to this wonderful community for the hugs, support and concern.
By SD (2), HB on Dec 23, 08 9:10 PM
God Bless this family for having such courage and class. what a truly wonderful story of taking a bad and making it into a good. But this has to be brought to attention as well. Why in the bad taste of the publishers of this normally wonderful newspaper. Is on the other "big news' of the week, a picture and TWO PAGE article highlighting the Sullivans new home? The very owners of the establishment where Mr.Reister lost his life. Come on have we become that inconsiderate of a society where such two ...more
By rosewood (3), southampton on Dec 30, 08 10:56 AM