Donate Life: A Pre-Vibes Feel Good Cause

by Sarah Mastroni

The rocking tunes, cool Long Island Sound breeze, and much-anticipated family feel camping experience that is the Gathering of the Vibes is only two weeks away. As the annual music and arts festival rolls back into town, patrons have been undoubtedly gearing up for an extended weekend of partying and equal amounts of relaxing.

Before you put your dancing shoes on, take some time out to consider going into Vibes with a lighter heart by doing the ultimate work of charity, and in turn, earning the potential to help a future Vibes-goer with the gift of organ donation.

Westport Firefighter, Joe Arnson, was introduced to the world of organ donation and its wonderful benefits over three years ago when fellow firefighter, Peter Janulis got him into the Grateful Dead.

“The two of us would listen to the Dead all day long, and I fell in love with it. Then we heard Phil Lesh’s Donor Raps and thought to ourselves this is a cool thing, we should do something to promote this to the fire service and to the public,” Arnson said.

Lesh is known to take a few moments in between playing with his band, Phil Lesh & Friends, as well as Furthur, in which he plays alongside Grateful Dead alum Bob Weir, to address organ donation after receiving a liver transplant in 1998.

“We did a thing called ‘Firefighters Going Further’, and within our department we got almost all of our members to sign up as organ donors,” Arnson explained.

“This year was really special. We had a couple of organ recipients come to talk about their experience. One speaker’s son had liver disease- he was an infant. He had gotten a liver donated to him by his mother, but still passed away,” Arnson continued. “His organs then went to other children who were in need.”

Every year, there are over 27,000 organ transplants in the United States alone, and what is even more important and less known about these trasplants is that in that same year, over one million tissue transplants are performed.

Joe Arnson of Firefighters Going Further

According to Donate Life America, an organization which aids in every aspect of the organ donation process, including sign-up, with just one organ and tissue donor, the lives of 75 people can be changed for the better.

Director of Donate Life Connecticut, Kari Mull, has been an active part of this cause for four and a half years.

“I fell into this wonderful career after volunteering for the five years following my sister’s fatal car accident and subsequent tissue donation.  My sister’s final gift to this world was saving and improving lives through the donation of her corneas, heart valves, skin, bone, tendons and veins.”

In relation to the Westport Fire Department’s newfound interest in organ donation, they inquired about educating their department on organ and tissue donation as a correlation between their every day life-saving work as firefighters.

“Working with these two firefighters, we did an in-service education program with Westport FD and held a fantastic Donate Life flag raising event during April, National Donate Life Month,” Mull said. “There is hope that departments around the state may follow suit and illustrate to their communities about the importance of donation.”

The inspiring story of Phil Lesh has left its mark with every lecture and discussion, interview and personal story shared by the legendary bassist.

“Famous people that take the opportunity to share personal stories about donation, such as Phil Lesh, give the opportunity for individuals to discuss donation with their friends and families,” Mull explained.

“Discussing the great need for donors (every day 19 Americans pass away waiting for an organ – simply because there is not one available) and the number of people that can be saved or helped by one person’s decision (one donor can save or help up to 75 others through the gifts of organ and tissue donation) is helpful for people to understand the dire need for donors we have.”

New England residents can learn more about organ and tissue donation at, and New York residents can get the facts at

“Our organization has the best volunteers who allow us to do amazing, lifesaving programs.” Mull said.

So before you head off for four days of music by the sea, do some research, open your mind and consider giving the promise of recovery, life and spirit to a brother, sister or stranger in need.