Candace Caluori, an assistant principal at Warwick’s Toll Gate High School, has an additional title.
Moreover, the popular educator last week started a new tradition in Titan Territory by way of a unique birthday bash.
Caluori will now also be known as a “life saver.”
That’s because the blood drive held last week to celebrate her first birthday with her new kidney was an overwhelming success and wound up with 56 pints of blood.
“I’m very, very pleased with the result,” Caluori said. “I’m an over-achiever; I was hoping for 100 pints of blood, but we had 20-plus people who were turned away [from giving blood] for various reasons ... people couldn’t find a vein...”
Thus, as Caluori continued in her always-upbeat tone of voice, “Each pint of blood saves three people’s lives. So really, 168 people’s lives were saved because of last Wednesday’s blood drive.”
Josh Toso, an account manager with the Rhode Island Blood Center, added, “The people at Toll Gate really wanted to finish with 100 pints of blood. Our goal was 30, so to finish with 56 pints [of blood], that translates into a very successful drive.”
The blood drive, which was coordinated by Toll Gate teacher/coach and one-time Apponaug Girls’ Softball All-Star standout Lonna Razza, created so much enthusiasm because of the respect the Titans’ student body has for Caluori that a school-wide blood drive will be held on Friday, April 26 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
While the event is not specifically for Caluori, the assistant principal will indeed assist Razza and Rhode Island Blood Center account manager Josh Toso in planning and organizing the April 26 blood drive that will also be open to the public.
But next year on Jan. 30, the date Caluori had her kidney transplant that gave her “a new lease on life,” she’s hoping to have a “second birthday party” and this time to hit the century mark as far as the number of pints generated from a blood drive.
There’s even talk about doing a combined RI Blood Center/RI Organ Donation Coalition Blood Drive together with Caluori’s Toll Gate Titans sometime in the summer.
“The need for blood is much greater in the summer,” Caluori said. “The need is always there!”
And that may explain one of the reasons Dr. Paul E. Morrissey, a noted surgeon and director of transplants at Rhode Island Hospital, brought his entire transplant team to last Wednesday’s Birthday Blood Drive for Candace Caluori.
“I was thrilled,” Caluori continued. “It was really nice to have the people from my transplant team here, as well as people from the organ donation coalition. They brought a kidney donor and recipient and a double lung recipient. They even brought a liver recipient and other kidney recipients.”
Caluori, whose family has a history of genetic polycystic kidney disease and who lost her father at age 47 because of it, said, “It’s comforting to talk to people who have gone through the same thing you have. And, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Toll Gate assistant principal also emphasized just “how proud I was of my students and faculty. Education gets such a bad wrap today; there are so many great things that go on here that people aren’t aware of.”
Caluori, her voice showing the joyous emotions of a successful event, said, “It’s not just about giving blood. It’s about teaching the kids integrity, passion and other life skills after they leave us. It’s not about me; it’s about all the other people who still need help. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Perhaps Toso put it best, speaking about last week’s special birthday party for Caluori.
“It was a great event,” he said. “It was great participation with adults and students.”
Toso, a Massachusetts native who once dabbled in the sailing and sail-making industry, added, “It was a great show of community. It was also great to see so many people come and support Candace.”
The blood drive, directed by the RI Blood Center’s lead donor specialist/supervisor Maria Lajoie, began with seven staffers and 10 donor beds. Because of the turnout, those totals were upped to a dozen beds manned by a dozen staffers.
Editor’s note: The Friday, April 26 Blood Drive will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the upper gymnasium at Toll Gate High School. People who’d like more information should call the school at 734-3300 or the RI Blood Center at 1-800-283-8385.