Michael Mania Jr. didn't know what to say.
For the first time, he was meeting the parents of the woman whose lungs draw his breath. Her death, a tragedy for one family, had provided a miracle for another: the organ transplant Mania so needed.
What would he say? What could he say?
Mania, a 56-year-old father of two from Bayville, N.J., had suffered from sarcoidosis — an inflammation in the lungs — following a botched surgery in 2003. Ten years later, he found himself on a transplant waiting list for nearly six months.
Samantha Pesaresi (Courtesy photo)
Sam's lungs were given him on Sept. 7, 2013. The otherwise-healthy 23-year-old from Alpha — a three-year field hockey starter at Albright — had died days earlier after suffering a brain aneurysm while driving.
Within days of her death, Sam's family donated her organs. Her heart, lungs and liver saved three lives, they said.
Within weeks, the first Sprint for Sam 5K was run in Pohatcong Township, raising some $4,000 for the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Family House, which provides patients awaiting organ transplants a place to stay.
Saturday was the fourth annual race. The Manias and Pesaresis had written letters to each other before, but both Renae and Michael described feeling the anxiety of their first meeting setting in days before the event — their first face-to-face meeting.
When they arrived at the Pohatcong municipal building on the cool, blustery morning, Mania described he and his wife sitting in the parked car, simultaneously anxious and excited.
"I was nervous for them. They were nervous for us," he said.
The feeling, Sam's mother said, was mutual.
"He was so nervous, and it made me feel more comfortable," Renea Pesaresi said, holding back tears with little success as runners prepared around her. "We were both nervous, but for different reasons."
What would he say? Mania didn't know.
"I had no idea," he later recounted, "except for thank you."
Renea recalled her reply: "It's a miracle. It's really great to finally meet you."
There were emotional moments as relatives met and mingled through tears, hugs and laughter.
Mania was given the honor of sounding the air horn to start the race.
Then he attached a race bib to his shirt. The families walked together.
Steve Novak may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @type2supernovak and Facebook. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.