Cliff – Heart Recipient

cliff-conedy-lgCliff was born in Los Angeles, California, the middle child of seven. He grew up in a happy, loving, Christian home for the first seven years of his life. But everything changed when his father died at the age of 45, from what would later be diagnosed as hereditary cardiomyopathy. Years later, his 49 year old brother passed away from the same heart defect.

Cliff grew up playing football, something to help take his mind off the devastating loss of his father. Over the years he grew to love the sport and eventually turned that passion into a career. After high school, he received a football scholarship to the University of San Francisco. But after just one season, the university dropped its football program, and Cliff transferred to UNLV. Two years later, he moved on to play professionally for the Southern California Suns in Anaheim. When the World Football League folded, he was granted a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, during pre-season, Cliff suffered a career ending knee injury. He returned to Las Vegas and began a new career in the gaming industry.

In 1994 Cliff’s life changed forever. The married father of four was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy. He was admitted to Sunrise Hospital, and had an internal defibrillator installed. That’s when Cliff was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant. After 14 years of medication therapy, Cliff’s heart started to deteriorate and in August of 2008, he was flown to the UCLA Medical Center. By the time Cliff reached UCLA, his heart was down to 5% functionality. Because his old heart was no longer functioning properly, a bi-ventricular assist device was installed to sustain his life. Just five days later, he received his new heart.

Cliff met his donor family in January of 2011 and tells that story in his own words:

After I received my new heart, it is was always my desire to meet and get to know my donor family. I had a burning desire to learn as much about my heart donor as I could. I received my new heart on September 9, 2008. I returned home to Las Vegas in November just before Thanksgiving. That Thanksgiving was extra special that year, I was given a second chance at life and had the opportunity celebrate with all my kids and grandkids. I composed a letter to my donor, which I tried to read (fighting back the tears) to my family.

Afterwards, we all signed it and I mailed it to One Legacy, the liaison organization between the organ recipient and the donor family. After 3 long months of not hearing anything, and not knowing if the donor family even wanted to be contacted, I received a call from One Legacy. The ambassador said they had received a letter from my donor family and asked if I wanted to receive it. I said YES! Please, by all means. That started the initial communication between us.

In that first letter I found out my donor’s Mom’s name is Bonnie, and I also found out he was married with a 3 month old daughter. I found out Tony was not an organ donor and the family had to make the difficult decision to donate his organs at the hospital. I also found out we had similar personalities; Tony was a loving and giving person and enjoyed helping others. Given the fact he and I were the same height and weight, and had the same blood type, made Tony my “Perfect Match.”

We continued to communicate by letter for a short period of time and then by email and eventually by telephone. During those conversations I found out Tony was married and had a 3 month old daughter at the time of his death.

In January 2011, I received a call from Bonnie stating they would be in Vegas for a wedding and thought that would be the perfect time to meet. I was so excited, my long time hopes and dreams were about to come true. We made arrangements to meet at a local restaurant and on that day I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie, her husband Mike (not Tony’s Dad) and Desirae, Tony’s sister. Most of my family was there and we had an awesome time.