Students honor Arlington Heights organ donor who helped save lives

  • Taylor Petrillo, from right, and South Middle School Principal Piper Boston join the Jesse White Tumblers Tuesday afternoon during a performance in the Arlington Heights school's gym. Taylor organized the all-school assembly to honor organ donors, including his 27-year-old brother Matthew, who died in September.

      Taylor Petrillo, from right, and South Middle School Principal Piper Boston join the Jesse White Tumblers Tuesday afternoon during a performance in the Arlington Heights school's gym. Taylor organized the all-school assembly to honor organ donors, including his 27-year-old brother Matthew, who died in September. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Matthew Petrillo

    Matthew Petrillo

  • Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White came to South Middle School in Arlington Heights Tuesday to promote his office's organ and tissue donor program. He's making several appearances this month as part of National Donate Life Month.

      Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White came to South Middle School in Arlington Heights Tuesday to promote his office's organ and tissue donor program. He's making several appearances this month as part of National Donate Life Month. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Members of the Jesse White Tumblers high-five South Middle School students Tuesday in Arlington Heights. The group performed during an all-school assembly to promote organ and tissue donation.

      Members of the Jesse White Tumblers high-five South Middle School students Tuesday in Arlington Heights. The group performed during an all-school assembly to promote organ and tissue donation. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • South Middle School students -- many wearing green to promote organ donation -- look in awe Tuesday during a performance by the Jesse White Tumblers in Arlington Heights. One of their classmates, Taylor Petrillo, organized the assembly to honor his 27-year-old brother who was an organ donor.

      South Middle School students -- many wearing green to promote organ donation -- look in awe Tuesday during a performance by the Jesse White Tumblers in Arlington Heights. One of their classmates, Taylor Petrillo, organized the assembly to honor his 27-year-old brother who was an organ donor. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/16/2019 6:37 PM

Students, many wearing the color green, filled the gymnasium of South Middle School in Arlington Heights Tuesday to promote organ donation and remember a classmate's brother who has helped save lives.

Taylor Petrillo, 14, launched the effort to honor the memory of his 27-year-old brother, Matthew, who died in September. The South eighth-grader organized an all-school assembly for National Donate Life Month after working for months with the principal, teachers and student council.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I wanted to make a day to honor organ donors who don't get much recognition, because they save lives," said Taylor, who plans to continue his advocacy when he moves to St. Viator High School next fall.

And with the help of his dad, Tony Petrillo, general manager of Arlington International Racecourse, Taylor got a big advocate to help promote the cause: Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State who has made organ and tissue donation a hallmark of his two decades in office.

White also brought along his signature Jesse White Tumbling Team to entertain South students and staff.

Petrillo family members say because Matthew signed up as an organ donor, he's helped life go on for four people they haven't yet met, but hope to some day: a 30-year-old Missouri woman who received a heart; a 59-year-old Indiana man who received lungs; a 67-year-old Kansas man who received a liver and left kidney; and 54-year-old St. Louis-area woman who received a right kidney.

"They're all folks who have children and grandchildren. Their lives are going to live on for generations," said Tony Petrillo, who learned about the recipients through Mid-America Transplant, the St. Louis-based organ and tissue recovery organization.

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Members of the Petrillo family sat alongside students on the gymnasium bleachers Tuesday afternoon, watching a video tribute about Matthew and the four organ recipients, followed by the tumblers' performance.

As the tumbling team folded up their mats and headed to their van, Tony Petrillo quickly followed behind. He thanked each performer and gave them a green wristband to remember his son.

He grew emotional as he described his son -- a young man who loved the outdoors, and played football as a youth for the Arlington Cowboys and Prospect High School Knights.

"He never had any enemies," his dad said. "He always treated everyone so well. That's the way he was."

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