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Faithful Beaver Falls transplant recipient gave before receiving

| Saturday, April 23, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Erik Cook, 35 of Beaver Falls embraces his daughter, Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Erik Cook, 35 of Beaver Falls embraces his daughter, Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.
Erik Cook, 35, of Beaver Falls poses with his wife, Michaela Cook, 30, who donated a kidney to her husband in 2013, and their daughter Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Erik Cook, 35, of Beaver Falls poses with his wife, Michaela Cook, 30, who donated a kidney to her husband in 2013, and their daughter Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.
Erik Cook, 35, of Beaver Falls talks about his past as an organ recipient. He is shown with his wife, Michaela Cook, 30, who donated a kidney to her husband in 2013, and their daughter Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Erik Cook, 35, of Beaver Falls talks about his past as an organ recipient. He is shown with his wife, Michaela Cook, 30, who donated a kidney to her husband in 2013, and their daughter Bella Cook, at their home in Beaver Falls, Friday, April 22, 2016. When Cook was 7, he began losing his sight. By 14, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Today he is 35, legally blind, and the recipient of three transplant surgeries. In 2015, when Cook needed a pancreas, he passed up a donor in order to let the person behind him on the list go first.

The transplant coordinator called with good news.

The pancreas Erik Cook needed to survive was available, she said. They would start preparing for surgery at once.

But Cook, whose wife was pregnant with their third child, gave her a surprising response: No, thank you.

He told the UPMC official that he wanted the person behind him on the transplant waiting list to go ahead of him. He did not know that person, but he had prayed on it, he said, and he felt that God wanted him to wait and give his blessing to someone else.

“In this lifetime, you're not always supposed to receive,” Cook, 35, of Beaver Falls explained. “You're supposed to be a blessing as well.”

That's true even in hardship, Cook believes.

When he was 7, he began losing his eyesight and today is legally blind. At 14, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

In 2009, while living in Virginia with his wife, Michaela, his kidneys began to fail, and he was put on nightly dialysis treatments. He had to quit his job as a dishwasher at Panera Bread. His health deteriorated.

“One day, his doctor called me and said, ‘The dialysis isn't working. You might want to start preparing your family and yourself because you're going to lose him,' ” recalled Michaela, 30. “I wasn't accepting that. I said, ‘Erik, I'm going to give you my kidney.'

“Mind you, I didn't even know my blood type. I didn't know anything. All I knew was, I don't want my husband to die.”

Doctors determined she was a match. The transplant surgery in March 2010 was a success.

Then his pancreas failed, a result of his diabetes.

The transplant surgery was in December 2013. But the pancreas failed. He needed another.

Then the transplant coordinator called again with good news.

And Erik passed.

He passed because this would be his third transplant surgery, and he might never be healthy enough to donate his organs. He passed because even though he cannot give the gift of life as his wife did, he can do the next best thing: He can step out of line and let someone else go.

Because Erik Cook believes life isn't all about receiving; you're supposed to be a blessing as well.

Michaela gave birth to their third daughter in early 2015. Erik struggled again with his health.

But they put their faith in God, confident that he would reward them for their selflessness.

Then the call came again. This time, Erik took the pancreas, and it worked.

Michaela wants more people to be organ donors. April is Organ Donor Awareness Month, and she suspects the only reason some people aren't donors is because of a lack of education. “You can't do anything with your organs when you die,” she said. So why not be a donor?

Erik nodded in agreement and recounted blessings made possible by more than just action.

God made him move to Virginia, he said, where he met the woman of his dreams. God made her kidney a perfect match. God brought him back to Pittsburgh, where he found his first pancreas, passed on the second and was rewarded with a third.

Such things don't happen by accident, Erik said. All he did was step out of line, he said.

“My faith has been my foundation,” he said. “I still believe God will heal my eyes someday.”

As he spoke, photos of his daughters Mishyia, 10, and Nevaeh-Raene, 9, hung on the wall. His 1-year-old daughter, Belliana, climbed onto his lap and cooed, “Da-da.”

“If you don't believe in God after hearing my story,” he said, “I guess you never will.”

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