Fall 2018

Kidney Donation Gives New Meaning to Alumni Friendship

When Mark Reda ’73 and Stephen Garrison ’71 played on the men’s golf team at Saint Leo University, they were only acquaintances. Garrison was a senior, and Reda a sophomore. While they shared mutual friends and played golf together on occasion, their social circles did not often overlap.

It wasn’t until several years later, when they were thousands of miles away from Florida, that the two were able to form a friendship that ended up saving Reda’s life.

Garrison, who grew up in New York, moved to the same city in New Jersey as Reda. “I’m coming out of church one day, and I see this guy who looked really familiar, but I couldn’t figure out how I knew him,” Reda said.

While there wasn’t an opportunity for Reda to connect with Garrison then, he got a second chance when they ran into each other at a park. After acknowledging their Saint Leo connection, the pair became friends, meeting for dinner and playing a round of golf from time to time. It was a serendipitous meeting because little did Reda know, but Garrison would be key to saving his life. In 2016, Reda was facing health problems, and doctors told him he needed a new kidney to live.

Reda had family members and friends offer to help, including two former Saint Leo roommates. However, for one reason or another, none were an acceptable match.

Reda didn’t share much about his health problems with his friend. While Garrison knew he wasn’t doing well and needed to have surgery, he didn’t know how dire the need was until after talking to Reda’s wife, Debbie. At that point, he learned that he might just be a perfect donor match and decided to help.“To me, it was a pretty simple decision,” Garrison said. “I know that it’s not uncommon for people to donate kidneys. I knew I’d be sore for a little bit, but that I would go on to live a normal life. I would feel terrible if something happened to Mark and I didn’t help him.”

After meeting with doctors and learning more about the transplant process, Garrison was confident in his decision to move forward. Reda received his kidney, and today both men are doing well and are still close friends.To pay tribute to Garrison, three years ago the Redas created the Stephen Garrison ’71 Scholarship fund at Saint Leo to support golf student-athletes who exemplify selfless generosity.

“It’s just a very humbling experience when the people in your life volunteer to help,” Reda said. “It’s the kind of thing that chokes you up when you talk about it. Establishing the scholarship is a way for me to memorialize what he did. His grandkids can see the scholarship and be able to know what their grandfather did.”


If you are interested in learning about Saint Leo University’s scholarship program and how you can help, please contact Dawn Parisi at dawn.parisi@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8251.

Marie Cirelli Thornsberry earned her bachelor’s degree in communication from Flagler College (FL). She joined Saint Leo University in April 2018 as director of University Communications.

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