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Happy Heavenly Birthday to Alison Gerlach. Her Legacy Lives on Thanks to her Family & Community

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Happy Heavenly Birthday to Ali. She would have turned 34 today.
I never met her, but feel as if I know her well. One thing I do know – Ali has saved COUNTLESS lives.

Sometimes in life you meet people who change you. Who make you want to be a better person. Sometimes in journalist-life, you come across a story that feels bigger than just another way to fill a newscast.  For me, one such story was about an amazing girl – I never got to meet. Alison Gerlach was just 17-year-old when she died.

It was a sudden death. In January of 2003, Alison suffered a sudden and apparently inexplicable stroke. Four days later, she was diagnosed with Moya Moya disease. A rare disorder, involving blockage of the main arteries and blood vessels to the brain. There is no known cure.

Ali died three days later.

Ali was a senior at Williamsville South High School, an outstanding athlete. A sister. And a daughter. A beloved, beautiful daughter.

After their precious daughter’s death, Ali’s parents chose to honor her memory by donating her organs to other needy children and adults. It was, without a doubt,  a reflection of her love. Her all-giving, selfless love.

That is why, even after death – Ali lives on because of the gift of life. An 11-year old girl received her heart, her lungs went to a mother of two, her liver went to a 47-year old father, and a 40-year-old woman received her pancreas and a kidney. I interviewed that woman years ago. I’ve never in my life met a more grateful person. When she met the Gerlach family for the first time – it was a joy and heartbreak that is impossible to put into words.

The recipients got a new life thanks to Ali’s organs. But, the Gerlach family got a gift, too. The gift of knowing their little girl’s legacy would live on. They ensured other families would not suffer the enduring pain they did and still do.

Randy and Claudia Gerlach have worked incredibly hard to make sure Ali’s spirit will always live on through their foundation. Ali’s Rally.

They’ve teamed up with Unyts and have created a ‘Donate Life Club’ to bring awareness to the power of organ donation. To the need. They’ve gone into countless high schools to encourage open dialogue about a very difficult and uncomfortable subject. They’ve raised nearly $300 thousand dollars to help spread the word.

Randy Gerlach told me he could not be more proud of his sweet Ali, “It means that years from now people’s lives will be saved because of our little girl. No one will ever know how many but she will. Ali has created a pyramid of hope. I can’t imagine how I could be more proud of her. 74 schools is huge but we don’t stop until every school participates. There are always more students to inspire by telling Ali’s story”

74 schools take part. There were five schools taking part in 2003. What an incredible legacy.

I’ve emceed many benefits for this amazing family. I’ve broken bread with them. I’ve had wine with them. I’ve always been incredibly inspired by them. My husband and I consider them great friends. And always will. I’ve never told anyone this – and hopefully they won’t mind – but, when I was off from my job at Channel 2 for six months after my daughter’s accident, they brought us a very generous gift and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was a week before Christmas and we’d just gotten home from Boston. I will never forget that. Ever.

They do things like that to pay it all forward. For 17 amazing years – not nearly enough – but long enough to watch Ali thrive, become a young woman, learn to love cooking, and Dave Matthews. They watched her care about the world around her. They watched her smile light up every room she entered.

These are people that remind all of us – that the small stuff does not matter one bit. That living a good life is what matters. That making a difference means living your best life.

I will leave you with a quote off of the Ali’s Rally Website,

“In life Alison Gerlach brought life and happiness to those she loved. In death she has given life and happiness to many she never knew but who will be forever in her debt.”

Countless lives saved thanks to an incredibly generous family.

Mary Friona

Editor-In-Chief at Totally Buffalo
Following my heart with my husband and four daughters. An Emmy Award winning journalist lucky enough to work in television & radio for 20 years -seeing wonderful places, meeting great people and telling their stories.
Mary Friona

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Mary Friona

Following my heart with my husband and four daughters. An Emmy Award winning journalist lucky enough to work in television & radio for 20 years - seeing wonderful places, meeting great people and telling their stories.

Comments (5)

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    Tracey Neubauer


    Beautiful story, thank you for sharing this. My heart goes out to her family. What a wonder thing they did.


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    Paul Hettich


    Hi Mary.
    Thank you so very much for remembering our godchild Ali.
    I cannot believe it has been 14 years.
    Her spirit, smile and most importantly her voice when she would say “Hi Uncle Paul will always be firmly rooted in my memory.
    Take care


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    Jim Moynes


    Mary what a well written heart felt pice about an incredible young women who was taken from this life all too soon.
    I have known the Gerlach family for many years and Ali since she was very young. I can attest to the generosity and welcoming spirit of this family and I have never experienced or whitnessed a more difficult decision made at a very tragic time in a selfless manner that would impact so many lives at a time of such great personal loss for a family.
    Ali was a chip off the old block and a reflection of the love she had for all of her abbreviated time on earth.
    Thank you for this piece and to raise the counsiousness of organ donation to all who read this piece of a wonderful young women.


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    Jeanette McLeod


    Ali was, in fact, a sweet young lady who always had a smile on her face. I feel honored to have been able to spend time with Ali for a few years. She was so interesting to simply sit and talk to. Her parents, Claudia and Randy, are also two wonderful people. I was so happy to read this wonderful story! Mary Friona, you did a tremendous job describing Ali and her parents whose mission has been endless on their beautiful daughter’s behalf. It is because of Ali and her parents that I have elected to become an organ donor by way of my eyes. Ali, what a beautiful angel you must be!


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    Kevin Brooks



    Was a special young woman. Always smiling and quick to help. I loved coaching her and becoming a close friend of the family. Her legacy with Ali rally lives forever.

    Coach Brooks


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