A Webster man has received national recognition for his volunteer work to improve the lives of patients awaiting organ transplants and their families.
Richard Perez received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefitting Local Communities. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presented the award to Perez at the Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C. on June 28.
Perez underwent his own liver transplant in 2003. He said the generosity of his donor inspired him to help others.
"A total stranger gave me the opportunity to live,” he said. “I don't know who gave my organ; I don't know who made that decision, but it didn't really matter to that person who they saved. It was just a person who said, 'when my time comes, I want my organs to go to save somebody's life.' "
For six years, Perez and his wife rented an apartment with their own money for out-of-town families whose loved ones were waiting for a transplant at Strong Memorial Hospital so they would be spared from any additional costs.
For the past 17 years, he has also worked within the community to encourage people to register as organ donors.
"Being Hispanic, I figured the best thing for me to do is to target my community,” Perez said. “So I attended community health fairs, I attended community workshops, I attended the Puerto Rican Festivals; I set up tables wherever I had the chance."
Thanks in part to Perez' efforts, 40 percent of those eligible in the region served by the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network were registered in 2017. That's up from 26.5 percent in 2012.