1995How Step By Step startedI received a life saving liver transplant, at a time when pretty much, the world was looking at organ transplants as voodoo medicine.Most people thought that lives would be short lived, due to rejection, and that you would be tied up to machines andbe restricted from many things in life, certain foods, moderate drinking and even sex.This is where the public pulse was at in the nineties when it came to organ transplants.Therefore why donate to an experiment, was one of among many of the sad myths.And that was why I witnessed so many people dying as they waited for transplants.After I received my liver transplant, I was out of the hospital in 10 days, and throwing a baseball after a month,and back in the gym training after 3 months. Hospital staff were witnessing my recovery as not the exception,but part of the norm, the only difference was I probably had a little more pent up energy andwas probably a little more determined to show the world that these things work. I would spend quite a bit of time with the doctors,nurses and an organization called Multi Organ Retrieval Exchange (M.O.R.E.) the official Provincial Agency at the time.I would discuss at lengths the issues about organ donations, and why it was so grim.At this time I was very impressed with the steps that Spain and a few other countries took to address the issues.I became a student of the so called Spanish Model and became quite versed with their policies. I still had a passionate desire to thank my anonymous donor, other than a letter, a letter was just not enough.I really felt I was not deserving of this gift.
1996-1997Toronto Ottawa Walk1st CampaignIn 1996, while I was at an NA convention in St Hyacthine QC, I seen my first epiphany. (The first of many over the next 15 years)I saw a way on how I can give back tremendously by producing a film about redemption. I contacted some film students from HumberCollege and a short film was produced and I called it Step By Step. My friend Sam Vinci and I decided one day to address drug abuse bywalking from Toronto to Ottawa. I was working with literally thousands of addicts since 1988. I had terminal liver disease, due to drug abuseduring my teens. My idea of giving back all these years was to address this demon in our society. So when Sam & I started walking, it waswith the intention of creating more awareness for drug abuse. When we reached Marmora, halfway into our walk, my 2nd epiphanyhappened. Sam & I were getting nowhere with fundraising or media coverage. Although honourable in our intentions we both started feelinga little foolish. I can’t say for sure, but I think, Sam or me might have cracked as we were arriving in Marmora in the rain.A Gentleman who looked like a sailor waved at us as we approached what seemed like a restaurant.He greeted us and gave us meals and rooms for sleep that night in his hotel. Sam & I were pretty perplexed with his kindness,and asked how he heard about us. He said he got a call from the Canadian Liver Foundation who were following us,and mentioned that there would be media the next day ready to interview us. He also told us us that next door,was the famous church grounds where the Virgin Mary was supposed to be spotted 3 times. I can’t really explain the feelingI got after hearing this, but I felt this was somehow destined to happen. The next day an executive member of the Liver Foundationarrived with several media people. Karen Morrison talked to us, and asked if we would change from a drug abuse walk to a liver disease awareness walk. She went on to say, that after hearing about me, a liver recipient walking 500 km, the phone kept ringing from the media. Sam & I agreed and after the interviews we went next door to reflect & pray. The media was simply amazed that a liver transplant recipientwas walking 500 km. So during the final 7 days, more & more media came out to cover the story, until we reached Parliament Hill in Ottawawhere a huge press conference was arranged. Another epiphany happened, the song Step By Step was playing on a ghetto blaster,and I remember how that song affected me. When it was my turn to speak, I announced that I was planning to do a cross countrywalk for Organ Donation awareness & finally I found a way to properly thank my donor family.
1998-99Ontario Walk2nd Campaign Part 1When I arrived back to Toronto, the medical & transplant community all heard about this and were excited & contacted me. CorriereCanadese, OMNI & CHIN started covering this story. And it led to a long relationship. While all this was going on I just received acceptancefor a very important fitness course. So I was at cross roads on what direction to take. I decided to continue my fitness career. In Oct 1997, mymom had a massive heart attack. I stood by her side as she was in a coma for 3 months. She died in January 1998. At the church service Iannounced that I was going to resume my walk across Canada in her memory. So I started building the Step By Step team, first by becomingincorporated, and then receiving a charitable number. We had quite an impressive board of directors, including a Judge who received a livertransplant. He also worked with Weir & Folds. So we had transplant doctors, lawyers, accountants, and members of the transplantcommunity, YMCA, COSTI, Salvation Army, including MORE, all getting behind this initiative. Especially MPP Al Paladini who really wasexcited about all this. I think maybe because he was a little proud that an Italian was going to do a cross country trek. As we were buildingthe team and the Canada Walk, we were also loosing members. Word started getting around about my past, and questioning whether I wassuitable to represent the organ world. I started questioning myself, would I hurt or help this effort. Maybe I would be a little more effectivebehind the scenes. After a lot of soul searching, I came to the decision that I was not going to let these nay Sayers get in way the way ofdoing what was in my heart; Thank my anonymous donor family. I decided that this my personal way of saying thank you for saving my life,and my way of carrying my cross for my sins. Publicly I would not talk about my past, my life started in 1995. If people benefited then thatwould be a bonus. So needless to say by the time I was starting the Walk, my team consisted of ex drug addicts, ex gangsters, and if you led adysfunctional life you were on my team. Instead of the Canada Walk due to the lack of resources we designed an Ontario Walk. Paladini wasstill pumped about this. He asked for my Ontario Walk schedule and he started sending out messages to his MPP colleagues to meet mewhen I entered their districts. Since I was very educated about this issue, I developed a plan to get to get Harris’s attention. The Ontario Walkwould wake up Ontarians about the critical need for organ/tissue donations, and the importance of allocating 100 million dollars toimplement the changes and facilities to accommodate the increase. I was to be the walking proof, that transplants do work, and they are acure. I broke all the myths about this issue as I walked and talked to over a million Ontarians. I would share my gratitude and talk about theways to improve donations. Media wrote, and covered the story at every stop in our 50 city/town tour. Every story was very positive aboutthis issue that nobody wanted to talk about before. It was in Harris’s hometown of North Bay, that I got the news from his niece, that heruncle was paying close attention. Near the finish of my walk, I got official news from Harris’s executive, that I was he invited me as a specialguest in his Throne Speech. He had a special announcement to make on Organ/tissue donations. McGuinty met me at the finish line inToronto, vowing that he would support all my recommendations on organ & tissue donations.
1998-99Ontario Walk2nd Campaign Part 2The Ontario Walk was not easy, we had $2000.00 as budget to begin with and by this time pretty much, everyone jumped ship, not thinking Iwould accomplish this. Each day made the Survivor series look like Disneyland. I got used to infections, flues, electrical storms, mosquitoesfrom other planets and eating baby food. Quitting was not in my vocabulary and I always found that extra ounce of energy to continue on.My road manager was recruited from a drug rehab, halfway into his treatment, because there was no one else crazy enough to do this withme. We were not your typical looking wholesome Canadians doing this, but more like guys from a Scorsese movie. But I think, ourgenuineness, sincerity, passion, drive and good humor kept winning the public, wherever we went. We met so many wonderful people, whocould not thank us enough for what we were doing. This was covered by the media. A liver recipient walking a grueling 2,500 km to thank hisdonor family to help with more donations, breaking the myth that organ transplants was voodoo medicine.On October 21, 1999, I was joined up with Don Cherry, as Harris’s 2 special guests. Lt Gov Hilary Weston announced through the reading ofthe Throne Speech, that the Harris Government was responding to George Marcello’s plea to create a new organ donor agency with themission of doubling the rate in 5 years. Harris took both Cherry & me to his private gathering afterwards and went on to explain, that I wouldspearhead this imitative alongside Cherry. I gave him my report/recommendations, and said I was ready to report for duty. I reflected backand looked at all the hard sacrifices that were made, the vision, the panning, the determination; I wish my mom was alive to see this.This was the major announcement in his Throne Speech, and the media went to say, do we have a more compassionate Harris this timearound? The Government went on to establish the Premier’s Advisory Board on Organ/Tissue Donations. Their job was to select all themembers that would make up the new agency. This new agency had $120 million allocated to it. We did a major press conference in NorthBay in January 2000 with Harris; again he confirmed that I would be a major player in this Agency.In February 2000, all the members were selected; neither step By step or I were included in this selection. Why were we not included wasthe 120 million dollar question; A shame and a travesty some said. At this point we can only speculate the reasons. It is however noteworthy,that some members that were selected were the people who saying that I was not the right face for Organ donations. But yet they weremore than happy to feast on my spoils, without even saying thank you. A few Liberal & NDP MPP’s were standing up asking why, but to noavail. The Premier’s Advisory Board on Organ Donations went on to become the Trillium Gift Of Life Network after they officially becameOntario’s Agency. Their mandate was revealed soon after, and my reaction to it was simple, are they serious, where is the mandate, all I seeas improvement is a new office. This great opportunity was squandered because it was not in right hands, by people that had nothing to dowith its creation in the first place. That was the travesty, that possibly hundreds of people could be alive today. All the recommendations thatwe provided were not accepted. It took many years of fighting to convince the governments that these policies were sound & practical andeffective, and eventually some have been adapted.
2000-2002Canada 769 Day Walk3rd CampaignDespite these great disappointments, I still continued with my plans to walk across Canada. However, the backlash of our relationships withthe TGLN made it difficult to get major support for my campaign. Time after time we would receive messages, from companies explainingthat the TGLN received their support. So again I started out with a flimsy budget of a few thousand and nothing but pure determination tosomehow plow through day by day, step by step. As far what it took to do this, just think of 10 times the Ontario Walk and add 2 winters,one in the Parries, and one in Northern Quebec. I might be able be to prove this one day. As we prepared this campaign something fantastichappened, another epiphany. A beautiful Torch was delivered to my address 170 Lauder Ave. It was anonymous and felt like it was like a giftfrom God, I called it the Torch Of Life. We first lit this Torch at Toronto City Hall, where Mayor Mel Lastman had the honours. I carried this asour symbol for our mission, to shine the light where there was darkness. I started walking with so many other disappointments andchallenges. Almost everybody bailed out and I had 12,000 kilometers & 768 days to go. The RCMP were investigating me after receivingconcerns about me and my campaign, and the ironic part was that for most of the campaign they were there to escort me. So they werewitnessing firsthand how I was getting this done, and the positive effect I had on the communities. It was in BC, that the RCMP honored meby proclaiming that because of my determination & integrity, they would have every RCMP Station equipped with organ donorinformation. So that backfired on whoever shared concerns about me. Obvisiouly they were trying to stop me, discredit me. The mediatag line was “he first woke up Ontario and now Canada, and after the visit with the Pope, he is waking up the world.” It was our Canadacampaign that inspired Health Minister Alan Rock to allocate 20 million dollars federally. I never let complimentary comments get to myhead; because I knew just around the corner, a disaster was waiting to unfold. My Ontario and Canada campaign did in fact bring this issue tothe forefront, and funds & support were being raised; only I was not the beneficiary to that. I was indirectly making the case for others tobenefit. While I was walking towards British Columbia, I received a call on my cell phone from someone with a Polish accent. He claimed tobe calling from Vatican City, on behalf of Pope John Paul ii. Of course I thought it was my friend Billy pulling another one of his pranks on me,and I replied with a barrage of profanity, until it was really someone from Vatican City. The gentleman was kind enough to ease my apologies,by saying that he understood, he had a friend like Billy. When I arrived in Rome, A.I.D.O, the Italian National Organ organization hosted me.Vatican City prepared me for the big day with Pope John Paul ii. On September 5, 2001, I passed the Torch to the Pope who blessed it in frontof hundred thousand people and a worldwide media audience. After he blessed it, it was proclaimed that on behalf of the Vatican, thatorgan & tissue donations was a genuine act of love and the Pope wisely encouraged me to pass the Torch to the children, who he said wouldinspire the world. This was another epiphany. I arrived back in Toronto Airport on September 11, 2001, rushing to Breakfast TV with AnnRhomer. CITY TV wanted to be the first to acknowledge the blessing of the Torch. When I got there I had to quickly get ready to present theTorch, and then all the alarms started going off. 9/11 just happened. Another epiphany just happened.
2003-2005Kristopher’s Wish4th CampaignBoth Ontario & Canada were complete successes, in so many respects. But it felt like pissing in the wind in some cases. I was usually left tomy own means to continue, especially when I was on the road. Although I was behind most of the tasks, I would have literally, thousands ofpeople working with me during the campaign; almost a thousand schools, police agencies, political offices, etc... all working with me tomake it happen, in each and every one of the 500 communities I stopped off in.I met young Kristopher in Sarnia, during my Canada Walk, a young 10 year old boy who carried the Torch to the Mayor at Sarnia City Hall.While he was getting interviewed Kris lifted up his t shirt, to reveal over a dozen scars on his stomach. He explained that since birth, he waswaiting for a liver transplant. Kris was no ordinary child, living at the brink of death every day. Kris asked me if he could carry the Torch acrossCanada, like I did. Kris was on his own mission to convince me to make this happen. For the next 3 years, Kris was very persistent, calling me,emailing me. One day his dad phoned me explaining that Kris was rushed to the hospital, his frail body gave out. All of us thought he woulddie that night, and I promised the Torch would be carried in his memory. All of us thought he would he would die except for Kris, who thatnext morning phoned me in a very weak voice asking me again if he can carry the Torch across Canada. Another epiphany happened, andKristopher’s Wish was born.On January 8 2004, from his hometown in Sarnia, at 13 years old we arranged to have him walk through 200 cities/towns carrying the Torch& a pager waiting to receive his call for a transplant. Many people in were accusing me of exploitation. At this time we were working withTrillium. CEO Darwin Keaely, when he first got the job, made it a priority to contact me. We met and worked together with Kris’s Wish. Soonafter he was getting flack by other members & decided to resign. Can’t say for sure what happened here. We were very successful with Kris’sWish, but every time we made headway, it was again like pissing in the wind. The whole world watched as this 13 year old Justin Bieberlookalike carrying the Torch city to city recruiting hundreds of thousands of young people like a Pied Piper. The wise Pope was right in hiswords. Medical doctors would appear often at our press conferences, updating the public on Kris’s health status. One day they shockedeveryone by saying that Kris’s liver disease had remised, putting him in less danger. They had no answers to how this happened. Kris said itwas the Torch.
2005-2006European Tour5th CampaignAfter finishing Kris’s Wish on Dec 17 2004, I thought I could use a vacation. I was planning to go to Italy possibly to deliver the Pope a reportsince he blessed the Torch. The Pope died and my vacation to Italy turned into SBS’s 5 th Campaign European Tour. Multimedia Novasponsored this 5 country research mission. I was going to gather facts from these countries, especially Spain who led the world in organdonations. During my stop in France, I was critically ill, and about to die. I was suffering with liver thrombosis and weeks left to live. Mybrother came to sneak me on a plane home where I could die in my homeland. Kris came to visit me and planted posters on my hospital walloutlining my journey and said I could not die, cause there was more work to do. On July 27 2005, my birthday, I received a 2 nd livertransplant, and held a press conference 5 days after my surgery to give my report to the public about the Euro Tour. During the next 2 years, Iheld a few dozen press conferences addressing different polices for organ donations. All these different policies were part of our originalrecommendations from the Ontario Walk. We had a lot of clashes with both TGLN & health minister George Smitherman on these policies.Ex MPP Barbara Fisher accompanied me many times to see TGLN.During this entire time, I extended my hand many times to work with TGLN & OHM to no avail. Frank Markel was the new CEO at this time..
2007-2008SOS40006th CampaignDuring his time I had to again soul search find out which direction I was to continue in this journey. I remembered the Pope’s wise words,pass the Torch to the kids, they will inspire the world. I had to seek this by putting this into action. I had to drop my policy changes and createa more general tone on my efforts with organ donations and focused just on awareness. While driving from St Catharines, Ienvisioned Kris’s army of kids relaying the Torch across Canada, SBS’s 6 th Campaign was born, another epiphany. The newly elected Lt Gov ofOntario David Onley hosted our kickoff of SOS4000 in his suite as his very first official event on September 25 2007. The next day Kris joinedme as we drove to St John’s NFLD to start the 100 city Student Torch Relay across Canada. Kris became a familiar site to these grade 12 kids,and he became an excellent mentor to them. As I began the SOS4000 journey I promised Lt Gov Onley, I would write every day to him like adairy. The Government, Media, & the Public witnessed firsthand as these wonderful kids worked their hearts to inspire everyone to becomeorgan & tissue donors. We finished in Yellowknife NWT on June 13 2008. As we arriving from City to City I was already planning on what todo for our next campaign. By this time I had taken out a 2nd mortgage to fund the campaign after disappointments in fundraising attempts.On the brighter side we showed Canadian kids can do this, why not other countries..
2009-2010SOSTHEAMERICAS7th CampaignOn Dec 2008, I was invited to Trinidad to discuss with the Government about organ transplants. I was told that 6 th Summit of the Americaswas going to be hosted in Trinidad, and there was plans to endorse our work at this summit. While I was in Trinidad, another vision,happened, a student torch relay across 36 countries of the Americas. Another epiphany appeared. This was SBS’s 7 th Campaign calledSOSTHEAMERICAS. After meeting with Wisconsin Governor Thompson in Toronto, I gave him my plans for SOSTHEAMERICAS. He told me tostart in Alaska & contact Governor Sarah Palin. So I did, and we planned to kickoff the SOSTHEAMERICAS in Wasilla, Alaska on Oct 23 2009.We were planning to have Palin lite the Torch to kick off this 36 country student torch relay, unfortunately she stepped down as Governor,and Governor Parnell took her place. As well we had Democratic & Republicans share the spotlight in our historic kickoff. It was the kids thatwere running from Wasilla to Anchorage that brought the parties together. As we brought the Torch through Canada again & through 13states in NE USA, these kids were producing their magic bringing the 2 parties together. Again I continued to receive disappointing news intrying to raise funds to keep the Torch Relay going. I had maxed out my mortgage and credit cards to fund this campaign, and the bank wasabout to take my house. I had to stop this magnificent campaign. It was going to be in Washington DC the final city. I had received word tocome to a place called Pope John Paul 2 Cultural Center in DC. Another epiphany happened when I arrived there. It felt like since the Popeblessed the Torch and said pass it to the children, that after almost 10 years, I had arrived to his house to share all the wonderful stories.There were so many stories from thousands of kids that had carried the Torch and how they shared their genuine enthusiasm. It was on April24 2010 that over one hundred students gathered at the Pope John Paul 2 Cultural Center in DC to honour the Torch and carry it to theUnited States Congress. They made a prayer that that Torch would resume its journey one day throughout he world..
2011Torch of Life Donor Dads8th CampaignI was faced with more disappointments when I got home was about to put out the flame permanently on the Torch. I gave it my all but feltlike pissing in the wind with all these efforts. David against Goliath, I guess Goliath wins. So after 15 years, of what started with a small step,and later turned into 50 million, I was finally at my last step. Another epiphany happened in January 2011 at my friend Lorenzo’s house inVancouver. It was not completely revealed, as the Donor Dads vision started hatching. It is crazy that I thought I had to complete another 500km run from Toronto to Ottawa, in freezing cold February to envision this. It was for Sickle Cell Disease, and as I plowed through blizzards,people were asking me why a white guy is doing this, for a black disease. My line was because I didn’t see colour, and I am crazy. Anyways, Ithought the pain would help see the epiphany vision better. At the end t did not, however, I got a call to bring the Torch to Arizona to help 99people that were taken off the transplant waiting list. I thought I would also get in contact with Christina’s Green’s family who lived inTuscon. Again after making my way back to Toronto, I thought this was a false epiphany, and again proceeded to shut down SBS. Then in April2011, I received an email from Shaheem, a young Afghan Student studying in Montreal McGill University. Never met him before, and heasked for help in his Toronto Ottawa Trek. He wanted to show Canadians how grateful he is of Canada. At the same time I received an emailfrom a young Pakistan Student who asked me for help with her dad who needed a liver transplant. I asked Shaheem if he would carry theTorch for her dad. He said yes, and it was seeing him carrying the Torch to his big family gathered together at Queens Park for the finish line,that I seen Mr. Khatib carrying the Torch, and thus the Donor Dads were born. Bringing Mr. Khatib here in Canada seemed impossible. Everytime I get epiphanies, I have to go through a horrendous process of convincing people that hese things can get done.In April 2011, I met with Archbishop Collins in Toronto, and felt confident that the Vatican City would receive the Torch of Life to honour 10years since the Pope blessed it. That is when I thought of contacting Reg Green. I did and asked him if he could join me in carrying the Torchto Vatican City in Nicholas’s memory. This all seemed like it was going to work, until I started finding out that Vatican City was too busy duringthat time. That is when I decided to arrange activities in Toronto for Reg to celebrate THE 10 TH ANNIVERSAY September 5 2011, inNicholas’s memory. During this time the vision of bringing both dads together happened. On Oct 30 2011, Ismael Khatib met Reg Green atthe Toronto Airport. We organized 4 high profile visits for them together in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa & Sawanaga 1st Nations. They receivedgreat support from all 3 levels of GOVERNMENT. We have arranged to help keep Ismael’s 20 year old son Khaled with us, as he plans tostudy and possibly live here. Also we have a very important project for him. During the 2 donor dads tour 2 other very important thingshappened. They inspired all 3 Ontario Provincial parties to come together to support an important organ policy and helped me to envision anOntario Tour to drastically increase organ/tissue donation registration. These latest events also sparked interest in enhancing Step By Step’sboard to do the following Help George with his financial challenges, and eventually put him on a salary. Participate in building moreresources & finances to help with the Ontario campaign. As we accomplish these 2 goals and build a viable infrastructure, Step By Step canresume it activities through Canada and the rest of the world.