Five years ago, Michael LoCurto stood up in a Delaware Avenue restaurant, a glass of soda in his hand, and toasted about 30 friends and relatives gathered to celebrate his fifth "anniversary."
Everybody has struggles in life, he told the group, even if those struggles don't involve replacing your major organs. "Everyone thinks they have insurmountable problems," LoCurto said. "But you have to keep plugging away. They're not insurmountable."
He ended his brief remarks with an old saying: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
He should know.
Today, LoCurto celebrates the 10th anniversary of his heart-liver transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
LoCurto, who suffered from an inherited blood disorder, became one of the first people in the nation to get a heart-liver transplant.
So LoCurto celebrates a birthday, in July, and his transplant anniversary every Feb. 24.
"It's a reminder of the second chance I got on life," he said. "It's a
reminder of how much I have to be grateful for. And a reminder of the struggles I had to go through.
"I wish people could have the type of contentment I have, without going through the life-and-death medical issues," he added.
LoCurto, 34, works as a special assistant to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, puts in more than a 40-hour work week and looks perfectly healthy. "He's a remarkable guy, and he has an incredible work ethic," Hoyt said. "He never slows down."
It's mere coincidence that LoCurto works now for Hoyt, a strong advocate of transplant programs. Hoyt's father, Assemblyman William B. Hoyt, was fatally stricken in the Assembly chamber in March 1992 while waiting for a heart transplant.
LoCurto has traveled a long road to his office in the Donovan State Office Building.
At 3 months old, he was diagnosed with thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder. A graduate of City Honors School and the University at Buffalo, he went into heart failure in 1994 at age 22.
Needing both a new heart and liver, he had to wait two years; during part of that time, his family's insurance company wouldn't approve what it considered an "experimental" transplant surgery.
The next five years -- which included bile-duct reconstruction and five months of dialysis -- put LoCurto's career and schooling on hold. But a desire to give back, to repay the gift of life he had received, led him to a UB degree in urban planning and a spot on Hoyt's staff.
LoCurto says he is so grateful to the family of the 22-year-old West Virginia woman whose heart and liver now live inside him, but he refuses to wear his transplant on his sleeve. Many people who know him would be surprised to learn about his transplant.
"I don't want to be defined by it," he said. "At the same time," he added, "I recognize that it's a great story. If it can help people overcome their own illness or whatever problem they have and appreciate their life a little more, then it's a great story to share."