BUFFALO – It’s the knock at the door that no mother ever wants.
On January 17, 2005, Erika French learned that her son, John Stark, had passed away.
Riding to snowboard at Holliday Valley in his friend’s car, the driver lost control of the vehicle and they slid into on-coming traffic. John died immediately
“He was fearless, and he was quite the character,” Erika explained. “But he had also had a very sweet soft side.”
An eccentric daredevil, he was also a known computer genius, oftentimes using hacking skills to prank his friends and family.
But snowboarding was his passion. And he was taken far too soon on his way to doing what he loved the most.
“The police came to my house and delivered the worst news of my life,” Erika said. “All our family and friends were over that night, and around 9 p.m. I suddenly remembered John wanted to be an organ donor.”
She was instantly brought back several months to the local DMV.
“We were filling out paperwork for his learner’s permit and he said ‘mom, what’s an organ donor“ she explained. “I told him what it means and he said it sounded cool and he agreed. I remember being so impressed that he would consider something so serious and thoughtful at such a young age.”
After all necessary assessments, John’s body helped roughly 50 different people.
One of which a 45-year old woman, who needed a cornea transplant – Kathy Bryzski
“About two months later, I got the letter from Kathy,” Erika explained. “As soon as I got the letter, I knew I’d find her quickly. Something inside of me told me I’d find her. I think it was my son leading me through it.”
Because Kathy worked for the police department, she was unable to give Erika her full location. But with some guidance from John, the two were connected.
The two shared an emotional meeting, which WGRZ captured in a news segment.
Through the years, Erika and Kathy remain important pieces of each other’s lives and get together two or three times a year.
Seeing the grace her son left behind through donating his organs changed Erika’s life. And she became more involved in spreading organ donation awareness.
“The BNAR contacted me and asked me to help run a table for organ donation signup at Agents Day,” she said of one of her first related acts of volunteerism. “Normally at these types of events we get four or five people to sign up to be organ donors, but on that day, we had over 25 people register.”
From there, her involvement multiplied as she hosted more blood drives and used John as the face of organ donorship advocacy advertisements.
“For me, it’s a way to keep John alive,” Erika explained. “It’s a way of honoring him. I never would have thought that the worst thing in my life would propel so much good.”
Erika’s decades of real estate success and overall kind and caring attitude toward others made her an obvious choice for the position of WNY Metro Roberts New Agent Mentor.
“I’ve always believed in giving back,” she explained. “My whole philosophy on life has kind of changed, and I think I’m a better agent and mentor for it. I’m more sensitive to clients, other agents and my mentees. I’ve learned to cherish every interaction I have with someone.”
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