Abdul-Kareem Salahuddin and Carol McCloud proudly hold a picture of the late Ryan Shaw. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

Ryan Shaw’s strong faith and his mother’s ability to transcend her grief sparked two events that Carol McCloud calls “miracles.” First, new lives for four strangers who received transplants thanks to her late son, and second, a deep and inspiring bond between two people of different religions.

Not long after her son’s passing six years ago, McCloud, a devout Catholic, wrote to Shaw’s four transplant recipients. A few months later, on Christmas Eve, she received a letter from his liver recipient, Abdul-Kareem Salahuddin, a Muslim grateful for his second chance at life. The two now have a friendship that embraces their differences and honors Shaw’s selfless legacy.

This occurred in in Philadelphia. The McCloud family has since moved to New Jersey.

Each November, Gift of Life Donor Program joins Donate Life America to recognize National Donor Sabbath, which is observed Nov. 13 – 15. Throughout November, the program seeks to educate faith-based communities about the need for organ and tissue donors.

Stories like the bond that developed between McCloud and Salahuddin highlight how a person’s strong faith can inspire their decision to become an organ donor and help save lives.

In August 2014, Salahuddin underwent his live transplant. He had been waiting over a year and was on the downside of health. He was in the hospital 95% of the time over a 14-month period.

Salahuddin,60, saw his deteriorating health as a test to see if he really had faith in God.

“I endured the test and I was rewarded for my patience from a very sweet young man. After some health challenges, he [Shaw] passed and his family was broken hearted, but they maintained their faith in God,” he said.

“Maybe they didn’t understand the concept of test, but they understood that the creator of the universe was responsible for what happened. God allowed my family to meet this family and they helped to save my life. They were able to save four people who were gravely ill. And I was one of them,” he added.

McCloud was always an organ donor. When Shaw got his driver’s license, he asked his mother what he should do. Due to his epilepsy, Shaw had seizures and had been hospitalized a few times.

“It was something that we didn’t put on his license, but I told him that if that situation ever presented itself, I would take care of it. And when Shaw suffered what turned out to be his fatal seizure on August 19, we didn’t know we would come to that decision in a few days,” McCloud said.

“In speaking to the nurse one evening when things had taken a turn for the worst, I asked the nurse whether it would be a possibility or not because I wanted to prepare myself for that decision ahead of time,” she said.

With his death, Shaw ended up donating his right lung, both kidneys, heart and liver. Ryan Shaw was 20-years-old.

McCloud wrote letters to Shaw’s transplant recipients within two months of Ryan Shaw’s passing and heard back from all of them. His lung recipient has since passed. Within the first few months of writing, The heart recipient did not respond until four years later, by then McCloud was volunteering in the local Gift of Life office.

Family services came across the letter from the heart recipient and handed it to her. Gift of Life Donor Program’s Family Support Services department handles all correspondence between donor families and recipients and keeps everything confidential to protect each party’s privacy.

“Everyone there knew I was waiting for it so long while I was volunteering at the Gift of Life,” McCloud said.

McCloud received Salahuddin’s letter on Christmas Eve in 2014. It was her first Christmas without Shaw.

“His birthday had just passed two weeks before to the day. I was finishing wrapping and just had a long day. I normally check my mail throughout the day, but the day wound down and I went to the mailbox at 11:30 that night. That’s when I saw Salahuddin’s letter, which was a gift from God; that letter helped me get through that holiday,” said McCloud.

McCloud and Salahuddin’s story is about gratitude, relying and putting trust in God 100%. It transcends religions. Salahuddin said it’s about faith because at the end of the day there is only one God.

McCloud and her family are part of Salahuddin’s family and vice versa. Salahuddin sends cellphone texts to McCloud as often as he can.

Salahuddin lost his 30-year-old son before he got sick, so he understands losing a loved one.

“In spite of that, she thought about mankind. She thought about what she could do in a very emotional situation that she was thrust into,” he said. “When my son died, I couldn’t even think about his organs I was so wrapped up in my own grief and my religious tradition is that you bury [the deceased] very quickly.”

“Every major religion in the United States supports organ donation as one of the highest expressions of compassion and generosity. Gift of Life Donor Program encourages all houses of worship to educate their congregations about the critical need for donors and to dispel myths about the donor process during the month of November and all year long,” said Leslie Jean-Mary, multicultural outreach coordinator at Gift of Life Donor Program.

More than 100,000 men, women and children are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the United States, and more than 5,000 are waiting in Gift of Life’s region, which includes eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware. An average of 20 people die each day waiting for an organ.

These facts are especially true for people from communities of color as they are at a higher risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which are among the leading causes of kidney failure.

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