Woman surprises strangers with gift cards, while inspiring them with her husband’s story

A Washington County woman is reminding families this holiday season during a difficult year, that the greatest gift you can give is life. Two years after losing her husband suddenly, Lori Keener and her family are surprising community members with gift cards and inspiring them with her husband’s story. It’s their actions that are making us Proud to be from Pittsburgh.

In a busy Bethel Park Giant Eagle parking lot, Lori Keener, her two-year-old son, Ryan, along with her sister and nephews, surprised shoppers with gift cards on Wednesday, all in memory of her husband, Matt.

“We call it Matt’s angelversary,” said Lori Keener of Canonsburg.

On December 23, 2018, Matt Keener who was 43-years old went shopping and was having lunch with Lori when had a catastrophic brain bleed.

“He said he wasn’t feeling well and he went to the restroom. Then he didn’t return. He was taken to the local hospital,” said Lori Keener.

Matt died on Christmas Eve. He left behind Lori and their 6-month-old son, Ryan.

“He was an organ donor, and that was marked on his license,” said Keener.

So, Christmas Eve, she was approached by an employee of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education, known as CORE. They link donors with recipients. Keener learned through them that her husband’s death was even more unique.

“Its rare that you get kind of those perfect donors that are able to donate their heart and lungs . Matt was able to do that. So he passed away on Christmas Eve, but he was able to donate, you know all of his major organs with cornea and tissue.”

According to CORE, donors and their families are not responsible for any costs related to donation, and despite the myths, even if you’re in an accident, and your license says you’re an organ donor doesn’t mean medical staff won’t try to save your life. Every 10 minutes across the nation a person is added to the organ transplant waiting list. CORE says there are many misconceptions out there about organ donation, which discourages many people from signing up.

“Across the nation 90% of the population that support donation, but yet in our region less than 50% have made that decision to register and put it on their driver’s license,” said CORE Communication Director, Coleen Sullivan. “So it’s a very important conversation to have.”

Even though Matt was gone, and Lori was devastated, Christmas day of 2018, six people were given the ultimate gift of time, which comforted Keener.

“I think for me, the biggest thing is that I recognize the family,” Keener said with tears in her eyes. “A lot of those families that receive a call, they received their call on Christmas Eve, and they were called to the hospital on Christmas Day. For them to get that call, I can only imagine the joy that they’re feeling. So for us, it kind of reminds us of those miracles that happen every day, both sides of that, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

And while Christmas could become a time of sadness for the Keener family, Lori says she is trying to keep his memory alive, especially for her son.

“I want to find a way that he can keep that joy at Christmas time and help him to realize, you know his daddy is a hero and that we can help others be heroes through organ donation,” said Keener.

“The need for registered donors in Pennsylvania is now greater than ever; fewer people have registered as organ donors...

Posted by Center for Organ Recovery & Education on Friday, December 11, 2020

Keener encourages people to become organ donors, she said she wasn’t one before her husband’s death’ but the experience left her in awe.

“Shortly after my husband passed, I become an organ donor,” said Keener. “I found the peace of knowing that he lives on in all those saved is something that is so amazing and just helped us get through the darkest days.”

Anyone can register as an organ donor, it’s very simple and you don’t have to do it at the DMV. You can log on to their website and CORE says it takes less than 30 seconds to do. If you are interested in learning more about organ donation or signing up -- CLICK HERE.

Register here.