DETROIT - It was a story about a Christmas miracle: two local teens who received organ transplants at the University of Michigan on Christmas Day in 2012. When a Canadian family saw the story on Local 4, they instantly realized their daughter Pamela Praill was the donor.
"As I am watching through tears, my heart is pounding, I just knew," said Patti Praill, Pamela's mother.
Pamela Praill was just 26 years old when she crossed the border from Canada with her mom to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Tragically, Pamela suffered an aneurysm and died Christmas Day. Her parents made the incredible decision to donate her organs -- a decision that saved five lives.
Read: Family shares daughter's 'gift of life'
Wally Maxson of Bay City, Mich., is one of those recipients.
"I got the call at nine Christmas morning. We were in church," said Maxson. "She said, ‘We have a potential donor for you,' and I just couldn't believe it."
It was the call then 40-year-old Maxson had waited two long years to receive. Diabetic since the age of 12, he was in kidney failure, on dialysis, and needed a new pancreas too.
"I was scared," said Maxson. "It certainly crossed my mind, am I going to make it?"
Three times, he had a received a call that a potential donor was available. Three times, the transplant fell through. The third time, he was actually prepped for surgery, when doctors discovered the organs were not suitable for transplant.
"You get your hopes so high, then you're crushed," said Maxson.
As he headed for the hospital that Christmas Day in 2012, he was overwhelmed by thoughts of the donor's family.
"There's no words that explain the emotions and the feelings," said Maxson. "You realize that someone has just had a terrible loss, and it's Christmas Day."
That night, Maxson received a new kidney and pancreas.
"It was amazing how fast, I just felt good," said Maxson.
He went from sleeping 20 hours a day to having more energy than he had had in ten years. Though Maxson still struggles with the damage done by decades of diabetes, his health is now dramatically better.
"No more dialysis, no more diabetes. No more insulin shots," said Maxson. "I can enjoy life again."
He received a letter from his donor's parents, and learned her name was Pamela Praill. But that wasn't all.
"When we got that letter, we saw your story," said Maxson.
Read: Christmas miracle saves two local teens
Maxson's aunt lives in Grosse Pointe Woods and saw the story on Local 4 about the Praills and their decision to donate Pamela's organs. Maxson learned Pamela's gift had also saved two teenagers named Scott and Jacob, plus a woman who received her heart and a man who received her lungs.
Maxson said the lives touched don't end there.
"The ripple effect. It not only affects me and Scott and Jacob and so on and so on, and so on and so on, but it affects all of their families and all of their friends."
Maxson has talked to the Praills by phone. He's learned he and Pamela shared a love of the outdoors and snow. But he's also noticed a major change since his transplant. Pamela loved candy.
"I don't know if it's because I had a lifetime that I couldn't have chocolate or it has something to do with Pamela, but I have the biggest sweet tooth (now)," said Maxson.
A framed collage with photos of Pamela now sits alongside Maxson's other family photos. Maxson and his loved ones say they're forever grateful to Pamela and the entire Praill family.
"There's no words to thank them enough. They have done so much for so many people," said Tammy Everitt, Maxson's girlfriend.
"For all of us, it wasn't only about what Wally got, it was what someone else lost," said Maxson's mother Mary. "One of my greatest hopes is that more people realize what the gift of life can do for so many people."
"I don't know how to thank them enough. There's nothing I could do to thank them enough," said Maxson. "There is absolutely nothing comparable to the gift of life."
Since losing Pamela, the Praills have dedicated themselves to encouraging more people to become organ donors.
To join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, click here.
To join the Canadian Donor Registry, click here.
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