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A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Friday for Robert P. Dietrich of West Seneca, who underwent a liver transplant in 1987 and championed the cause for the rest of his life.

The service was in St. Bonaventure's Catholic Church of West Seneca and was attended by a dozen former transplant patients. Burial was in Holy Cross Cemetery, Lackawanna.

Dietrich, 62, died last Tuesday (Jan. 30, 2001) in his home after a two-year illness unrelated to his liver.

The liver implanted in Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital saved Dietrich from dying of hepatitis. The surgery gave him an extension on life, and he resumed his passion for skiing, fishing and bicycling.

Dietrich then became a tireless supporter for others needing transplants. He co-founded the Western New York Support Group for people who had received transplants or were waiting for one. The group meets monthly at his parish, St. Bonaventure's.

Dietrich's wife, Mary Lou -- founder and administrator of the West Seneca Food Pantry -- became an advocate for him and his medical care. The former Mary Lou Gallivan is an aunt of Sheriff Patrick Gallivan's and is the sister of Monsignor David Gallivan, who concelebrated the Mass.

On Oct. 15, 1987, a long-planned fund-raiser was held in St. Bonaventure's Church to help meet medical expenses. Oddly enough, a liver became available that day, and Dietrich missed his own party.

The West Seneca Lions Club also sponsored a dinner, and other churches fielded activities for the town's well-known resident.

Dietrich had coached West Seneca soccer and girls softball, as well as baseball and basketball teams from his parish.

Then, in 1996, while training for the Transplant Olympic Games bicycle event, Dietrich was struck by a car in Orchard Park and, although wearing a helmet, suffered severe head trauma and was hospitalized for three weeks. Again, his wife and family and friends joined forces in hopes of bringing him back to a near-normal life.

"He made such a comeback from that," his wife said. "He was such a trooper. He was receiving blood transfusions every two weeks, and he never complained."

Last October, despite his serious illness and limitations, Dietrich was able to travel with his wife to Colorado for their son's wedding.

During his last months, he found great strength in the beauty of sunsets over Lake Erie. Using their small motor home, his wife would drive him to the southern lakeshore, often inviting family and friends to join them and share in their almost daily ritual.

Born in Buffalo, he was a graduate of Burgard Vocational High School and IBM Business Institute. He was a packaging sales representative, most recently for Hy-Grade Distributors. He was a member of the Ellicottville Ski Club.

In addition to his wife of 34 years, survivors include a daughter, Beth of West Seneca; three sons, David of Steamboat Springs, Colo., Daniel of San Jose, Calif., and Kevin; his mother, Frances of West Seneca; and a brother, Gordon of West Seneca.

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