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Iman Zaman, Tissue Recipient

After the house fire in Woodbridge, Virginia, that left 50-year-old Imran Zaman with mostly third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, he underwent 56 surgeries, spent two-and-a-half months in a coma, nearly died three times, and regained consciousness without the ability to talk or do much else. “I was basically reborn, just like an infant,” said Imran, now 54.

Imran recovered, thanks to doctors, rehab specialists, his own will and hard work, and skin grafts primarily from donated tissue. Now he honors the donors by dedicating his life to advocating for organ and tissue donation in the U.S. and overseas.

“I use myself as an example by talking about the situation I was in and what I am today. It’s possible because I got somebody else’s tissue. From within my heart, I thank whoever they were,” he added. “I also speak about how it’s possible to rise up from the dead. I want more donations so more people like me can get a new life.”

“I feel like I have a lot to give to society now that I have what I call my second life. I go to churches, mosques, and other places, and I talk about how important donation is.” -Iman Zaman, burn survivor

Chris and Caitlyn Persinger

It was December 2007 when Shelley and Todd Persinger suddenly found themselves living a nightmare. Their oldest child, 17–year–old Chris – a free spirit who loved sports, his guitar, and big city adventures, had just died in a car crash.

After Chris’ death, his sister Caitlyn threw herself into sports, where she felt closest to Chris. They had shared a passion for soccer, and Chris always pushed Caitlyn to the limit, trying to make her better. Caitlyn became an outstanding high school athlete and hoped to play soccer in college. Then, right before her senior year, Caitlyn tore her meniscus and ACL while playing soccer. The recovery period for this type of injury is lengthy – usually about six months or longer. “My injury hit me harder than I thought it would,” Caitlyn said. “I didn’t have this outlet that I could turn to anymore.” Caitlyn was desperate to get back out on the playing field – for herself, her college career, and her brother.

During a visit to the surgeon’s office, the Persinger family was told that there were two options to reconstruct an ACL – using an autograft, which is a patient’s own tissue, or an allograft, which is donor tissue. “It was 3 1/2 years later, and we started to think about Chris and wondered if he’d helped anyone,” Shelley said. She emailed the American Tissue Services Foundation (ATSF) and learned that Chris had helped 63 people. The Persingers were comforted by the news.

“We received a call from the American Tissue Services Foundation,” Shelley said. “Chris was a registered donor, but he was only 17 and needed parent permission to donate his tissue. So, we honored his wishes.”

Then on the day before Caitlyn’s surgery, they received a call from ATSF. There was one allograft left from Chris’ donation that had not yet been transplanted, and it happened to be a section of his tibialis posterior, which was the exact tissue that Caitlyn needed. Caitlyn’s physician placed a request for overnight shipment. The next morning, Chris’s donated tissue was transplanted into his sister’s knee.

Caitlyn recovered quickly, returning to the soccer field in her senior year and then going on to play in college. “Having his tissue in my knee is a constant reminder that he is with me,” Caitlyn said. “I always knew Chris was watching over me, but I never thought he could be a part of me like he is now.” And she hopes her family’s story serves as a reminder that the tissue banking community can change lives, often at critical moments.

“Chris continues to live on in the 64 recipients he helped, including Caitlyn,” Shelley said. “His impact really made a difference.”