A transplant story: 30 years later

Lily Allen holds a photo of Matthew Bemis. On August 8, 1984 she received a life-saving organ donation from Bemis, who was left brain dead after a drowning accident.

Thirty years ago a pair of families became forever united thanks to a medical miracle.

Lily Allen was born with a benign tumor in her liver. By the time she reached her first year, her situation had become dire. Lily's only chance of survival rested on a new medical procedure: organ transplantation.

in Omaha, Nebraska, Janet and Milton Bemis had just learned about the pioneering medical field when their family was struck by tragedy. Their two-year-old son, Matthew, was left brain dead after a drowning accident.

"We never discussed it between ourselves. But when I was holding [Matthew] Tuesday morning, I said I wonder if we could," recalled Janet 30 years later. "And Milton, before I could finish my sentence, said donate."

Through their grief, the Bemis' asked nurses if they could donate their son's organs.

On August 8, 1984 Lily and Matthew became the first successful liver transplant in Nebraska. UCLA doctors, who performed the surgery, believed at the time that they had helped extend Lily's life by five or six years. Friday will mark the 30th anniversary of her successful transplant.

"I try not to take each day for granted," said Allen. "I consider myself very lucky to reach 30 years with this liver. I just never pictured being able to get this far. It's really a miracle."

In 2006 Lily graduated from Saint John Fisher College. In 2008 she married her high school sweetheart with the Bemis family there to celebrate. Through every milestone, Lily thinks about the little boy who helped make it possible.

"Quite often I think of him," said Allen, who keeps his framed photo in her living room. "I wonder what he would have been like. I've met his younger brother, would he have been like him? Whom would he have become?"

Lily is living proof that life can go on.

"We're not all here forever, so maybe we can make somebody else's life easier," said Allen.

It's estimated that each day an average of 79 people receive organ transplants. Every 10 minutes a new person is added to the organ transplant waiting list and each day 18 people die waiting for the new organ they desperately need. Right now 123,241 people are waiting for an organ. To learn how you can help, visit