He’s as imposing as they come, a hard-nosed, somewhat gruff-voiced man who can easily make you run the other way if you tick him off.
But underneath that exterior lies as compassionate a man as they come, a family guy through-and-through, a man who met his mortality at a relatively young age and not only prevailed, but devotes his daily endeavors to making sure others can appreciate the gift of life as much as he.
Welcome to Mike DiPiano’s world, and on Dec. 20, 2013, ‘Big D’ will be in familiar territory when he dons a big red suit, white beard and black boots at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston to ensure some special youngsters will have a memorable Christmas holiday.
‘Big D’ and his elves will be giving out presents and hugs to children whose lives have been changed by the gift of life, an organ transplantation.
Many of you probably know DiPiano’s story. At age 44, his life was drawing to a premature conclusion with kidney failure. A devout Christian, he had received the last rites.
But DiPiano’s life was given a new meaning when he received a new kidney and pancreas, from a donor known as Sean, a 21-year-old who was killed in an automobile accident. The transplant took place on Oct. 25, 1998 and now, as DiPiano enters his 63rd year of life, the big man has never hesitated in helping others learn of the value of organ transplant and the need for people to be a donor by simply signifying as much on their driver’s license.
Mike has extended his message to countless amounts of people, as well as groups and wrestling tournaments. A legendary grappling coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, the husband and father of three retired (so to speak) in 2012, moving with wife, Karen, to Florida. But Nutley and Belleville are still home for the DiPianos, who are home for to spend the holidays with daughter Michelle and sons Michael and Frank. All three DiPiano siblings are successful high school coaches today, following in dad’s footsteps.
At St. Barnabas, Mike will put smiles on the faces of children, many of whom are also recipients of an organ transplant at a very young age. Other children may be recovering from illnesses which could keep them in the hospital for the holidays.
For Mike, it really doesn’t matter what the condition. If that child can draw a smile from seeing he and his friends on Dec. 20, it’s all that counts.
In January, 2014, the fourth annual ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’ high school wrestling tournament will be held at Demarest High in New Jersey. It began three years ago and features eight teams in a team tournament setting and was the brainchild of Mike DiPiano.
In the meantime, as the Christmas holidays near, Mike DiPiano will be back home, spreading his cheer and love for life to some great kids, as well as his extended family.
“For me, it’s about these kids with a new lease on life and the importance of organ donation,” DiPiano has said on numerous occasions. “Organ donation saved my life, and it can save so many others. It requires only a notation on your driver’s license that you wish to be an organ donor. My goal is to continue spreading that word to as many people as I can.”
It is indeed the true meaning of the holiday, and it will be wonderful to see Mike again on Dec. 20.