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Lindy Gale Publishing

$17.99/ e-reader $8.99


Joe Lafferty died for seven minutes in 2008. This came on the heels of beating cancer as an eight-year-old, fighting diabetes, losing an eye, and a pulmonary embolism. Later, he experienced kidney failure, heart valve replacements, and a double organ transplant.


His first 37 years were spent overcoming health issues while working alongside some of the biggest names in sports, including Dan Marino, Bucky Dent, and Rob Gronkowski.


Read how these sports celebrities have come to admire this unstoppable man.

"It's hard to believe what Joe has overcome.  It shows you the spirit he has."

—Dan Marino, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback

"Joe has this amazing will to win and an amazing desire to live.  I still marvel at the guy."

—Bucky Dent, New York Yankees legend and World Series MVP

Introduction: He Carries Me Through

    Rain had stopped before sunrise, but it remained a warm, misty morning in June 2012 as I drove across damp asphalt toward the tiny town of Elderton, Pennsylvania, forty-five minutes northeast of Pittsburgh.  It was strange to navigate a car again, so I focused on the road, the feel of the steering wheel against my palms.  Thanks to the transplant, circulation had improved my vision enough that I could drive again, but only during daylight.  It had been nine long years.  Now that I was regaining my health, this would be my first stop.  I needed to go alone.  
    I was nervous, more anxious than I had been for any first date or job interview.  I kept the radio off, so the only sound was the humming engine with rare interruptions from the GPS tracker.
    “In one-quarter mile,” the audio instructed me, “turn right onto Cemetery Road.”
    Directions would lead me there, but I wasn’t sure how to find Justin once I arrived.  More importantly, what would I say?
    A few days earlier, when I had mentioned my anxiety to Justin’s mother, Rhonda’s sentiment was simple.  
    “Just talk to him,” she said.  “He’s a great listener.”
    Her advice had calmed me then.  Now that peace had faded; I was jittery again.  
    Tire tracks were visible through the grass.  Driving slowly, foot hovering over the brake, I saw a black onyx grave stone etched with the silhouette of a guitar.  Too distant to read any name, I knew this was the spot.
    Putting the car in park, I emerged tentatively from the driver’s seat, unsteady and humble.  Morning sunshine reflected off the inscription, so I stepped forward, shading my eyes as I stooped down to read:

Precious are the memories of Justin.
He laughed often and loved much.
His love will never be forgotten and
never will his memory fade as
he now shares his smile with the angels.

    “Hey,” I said without preamble.  “It’s an honor.”
    There was a lump in my throat.  I tried to hold back the tears, but they leaked out anyway.  We had never met before, but this young man would forever be part of me.  His tragedy gave me another chance at life.  His sacrifice was the beginning of my resurrection.
     The grave was beautifully landscaped, surrounded by a bed of white pebbles and wooden edging.  On the ground were weathered crosses and offerings from previous visitors: a miniature flag, a landscaping rock that read “friend,” colorful flowers.  I was embarrassed that I had nothing to share.  I circled to the front of the stone, which read:

Our Son, Brother, and Friend
June 23, 1993-February 13, 2010
He Lived — He Loved — He Laughed — He Smiled

     I had seen the phrase “live, love, laugh” before.  Justin must have read it too during his short life.  But here, “smile” was added as the capstone.  It seemed appropriate.  The word brought forth an image of the young man.
    The first time I met his family, they gave me a print of his school portrait.  He had a great smile, with bright, dark eyes.  Skin was creamy, with typical teenage hair, a straight brown shade that was long in front but didn’t spill onto his collar.  It reminded me of the Beatles.  On the bottom edge of the frame the word “smile” was written.

    Smiling can be a foundation.  You can’t love and laugh all the time, but you can always smile.  Sometimes you just have to fake it until the sentiment becomes real.  I read the Bible

every day, and scripture tells us that if you have faith, faith will be delivered unto you.  Justin believed that if you can force a smile, you’re on the road to living and laughing.  It’s a wonderful, joyous sentiment.
     His family explained that Justin had been a colorful kid.  When a friend was feeling down, Justin wasn’t shy about cracking a joke or making a fool of himself simply to elicit a laugh and change the mood.  How many teenagers care more about the people around them than they do about themselves? 

     From the top of the hill, morning fog burned off in the valley below.  I stared at his headstone, wishing that I was musical so I could play a song for Justin.  He loved the guitar.
Fifty yards away was a stout, squat tree with branches curling down in a mushroom shape.  An adult would have to crouch and duck beneath low-hanging leaves to touch the trunk.        

     Despite the sun, the base of the tree was wreathed in shadow.  It was a perfect spot.  I took a deep breath.
    “I guess that’s your spot to sit and play guitar, right?” I said out loud.  I heard only silence, but I’m certain he agreed.  It was a peaceful, quiet morning.
    Two years earlier, I had major health struggles.  I was only in my thirties, but my body had endured too much, and things were slowly shutting down.  By volunteering to be organ donors, Justin and his family had given me a gift.  They sent a blessing into the world not knowing how it would affect the future.  They believed in goodness and helping others.  
     Now, before his grave, I wondered why Justin wasn’t on this earth any longer but I was.  It didn’t seem fair.  I foolishly wished that I could trade places with him.  He had been sixteen and deserved a shot to grow up.  But those are decisions that only God gets to make.
    Justin is part of me now.  As a Christian, I know I’m not responsible for two souls.  I don’t believe it works that way.  But I do believe that I’m responsible for whatever time I have left here.  I want to use that time to honor Justin’s memory.  I want my time to be good so I can contribute positively in the world.  I want to love people and spread peace and not take a moment for granted.  
    But that can be a tough hang.  It’s not always easy.
    To reflect back on my days, I’m amazed.  I’ve had so many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.  I’ve experienced so many blessings.  
    I became friends with Dan Marino while I was in high school and he was the best quarterback in football, setting NFL records.  I’ve befriended celebrities like Bucky Dent and spent time with legendary football coaches Chuck Knox and Mike Ditka.  I’ve coached young men, many of whom went on to play in the NFL, like Rob Gronkowski and Ryan Mundy.  I have great friends, a wonderful family, and the love of a beautiful woman.  
    But there have been dark times too.  Cancer.  Diabetes.  I’ve lost my eye and endured a kidney and pancreas transplant.  I even died on a hospital table.  Six days passed before I woke, and I have no memory of that missing time.  I’ve cheated death more than once, so I understand hope and value each new day.  I’m alive because God carries me through.
    I was once asked what I would give to be healthy again.  At the time, I felt weak.  My answer came quickly, surprising those around me.
    “I’d jump off a building and break every bone in my body,” I professed.
    It would be a fair tradeoff for kidneys that worked perfectly or having 20-20 vision.  With broken bones, despite the casts, the pain and the hardships, there is an end in sight.  I could rehab and heal and eventually work my way back to normal.  That’s not a luxury I have.
    But I refuse to complain.  It’s been an incredible life, and there’s plenty to come.  This is my story so far.

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