‘Spare Parts’ and pumping hearts

Donate Life team runs marathon to spread organ donation awareness

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

‘Spare Parts’ relay team members (left to right): Trish Thompson, Dawn Bissonette, Chris Chiarello, Dr. Antonio Di Carlo and Bella Carter. Not shown is Williston resident Michelle Pierce, who filled in for the injured Chiarello and ran anchor for the team at the 24th annual KeyBank Vermont City Marathon & Relay on May 27. (Courtesy photo)

It wasn’t just the neon green Donate Life Vermont T-shirts that made “Spare Parts” unique among the 1,443 relay teams that participated in the 24th annual KeyBank Vermont City Marathon & Relay on Sunday.

It was also what the shirts represented.

The five members of the Spare Parts relay team and their injured captain have all had their lives shaped by organ donation.

Michelle Pierce is a living kidney donor.

Trish Thompson is a liver recipient.

Bella Carter, a cross-country runner at Enosburg Falls High School, is the niece of a woman whose heart, liver, kidneys and corneas were donated after she died in a car accident.

Dr. Antonio Di Carlo is the medical director of transplant services at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Dawn Bissonette received a lifesaving kidney transplant 38 years ago.

And team captain Chris Chiarello, who was forced to sit out the race due to plantar fasciitis, is celebrating 20 years as a liver and pancreas recipient.

Chiarello said he was happy to step aside for Pierce, a Williston resident who donated a kidney to fellow Willistonian Stephanie Fraser four years ago.

“When I had a chance to put someone who is a living kidney donor on the team, that made a lot more sense than having three recipients out there,” said Chiarello.

Pierce said she and her teammates were pleased with their results on the warm and sunny day in downtown Burlington.

“We did a lot better than we thought we were going to do,” said Pierce of the team’s time of 4 hours, 17 minutes, 48 seconds. “I think we all had anticipated that we were going to be closer to the five-hour mark. I think we were all amped up by the adrenaline and the crowd.”

Chiarello said the team’s performance had nothing to do with his pre-race pep talk.

“I said, ‘Take as long as you want. The longer we’re out there, the longer we’re spreading the word,’” he joked.

As their T-shirts announced, the Spare Parts team ran on behalf of Donate Life Vermont, a social initiative sponsored by the Center for Donation & Transplant, whose mission is to “bring awareness and education to the Vermont communities about the importance and need for organ donors while providing the tools to take action.”

Di Carlo, affectionately known as “Kidney Tony” among his teammates for the many kidney transplant operations he has performed, noted in a press release that the goal of the weekend was to spread awareness of organ and tissue donation and to hopefully save lives.

“We want to help create awareness and promote an important issue at this community event, one in which Vermont has made great progress recently,” Di Carlo said in the release. “Hopefully, we can inspire some of the attendees and runners to make a decision that could positively impact someone’s life in the future, or provide more information about organ and tissue donation that some may not be aware of.”

For more information about Donate Life Vermont, visit