WARRENSBURG-Ryan Winslow, a local high school sports star and academic standout embarking on a promising business career, died nearly five years ago on Memorial Day weekend in a tragic boating accident on Lake George.
The night of Ryan Winslow's death, his parents, Bryan and Donne-Lynn Winslow, decided to donate Ryan's organs so others' lives could continue.
This next week, the Winslows intend to meet up with Gary Antognioni of Mount Pleasant, S.C., the recipient of Ryan's heart, and various members of the Antognioni family.
It will be the first time the Winslows have met the Antognionis in person, although they've exchanged cards and emails. "It means so much to me that Ryan's heart is still beating," Donne-Lynn Winslow said, choking back the tears. "What makes it so special is that family and friends were very important to Ryan, and the Antognionis are a wonderful family."
Gary and Ellen Antognioni, Winslow said, have three children - two daughters who are in college, and a son who just graduated from high school.
Tuesday April 12, the Winslows were headed for a vacation in Myrtle Beach, with the intention of meeting up April 21 with the Antognionis. Efforts to reach the latter family were unsuccessful as of Tuesday, but the Winslows offered some details.
Gary Antognioni, in his late 40s, is apparently healthy now, recuperating after undergoing the heart transplant, Donne-Lynn Winslow said. She said he was now active after being bedridden with a serious heart condition.
She added that he had apparently successfully overcome the routine challenges of organ rejection.
"It sounds like he's doing well now," she said.
For three years, the organ transplant organization based in Albany restricted the two families' communication to protect privacy, allowing notes only to be forwarded between the two families through their agency, Winslow said.
But recently, the transplant agency allowed unrestricted communication, and they've kept in touch with letters - and the Antognionis have sent photos of their family. Winslow said she will be taking photos of Ryan to the meet-up to share with them.
Although they've received a number of emails from Ellen Antognioni, the couples have yet to talk via phone. The Antognionis recently relocated from Bennington Vermont.
Reading one of the emails via phone, Winslow put a voice to some of Ellen Antognioni's sentiments about the donation of Ryan's heart: "We are so happy we can meet you - We wanted to thank you in person for your love and kindness - God bless you," Ellen Antognioni wrote.
"They sound like pretty special people," Winslow added.
Donne-Lynn Winslow also said she was intrigued that Gary Antognioni apparently has a deep interest in baseball and football, and served as a coach for the sports.
Such an attribute represents a bond with Ryan, who also loved sports, she said.
Ryan Winslow was a three-sport standout at Warrensburg High School - he was the fleet-footed quarterback of the school's late-1990s football teams, a member of the 1998 basketball team that won a Section II championship and continued into regional playoffs for the state championship - and he was a pillar of the school baseball team.
He also loved water sports, boating, kayaking and wakeboarding on Lake George. He also had a passion for snowboarding, skiing, golf, and biking, as well as a thirst for adventure.
Ryan Winslow was also known as a friend to all, and he was known as thoughtful towards people of all ages.
Matt Randall, a classmate and one of Ryan's many close friends, commented Tuesday on Ryan's character.
"Ryan had a real magnetism," Randall said. "People just gravitated toward him."
The Winslows and Antognionis will be spending April 21 together, and their get-together includes a tour of Mount Pleasant and environs, Donne-Lynn said.
"I wanted them to be ready to meet us, and now I'm anxious to see meet them and hear about what they all do," Donne Winslow said. "We've been so close."
Gary's father, John Antognioni of Bennington, has also written notes thanking the Winslows.
Ryan's liver and kidneys were also donated to various recipients, but the Winslows haven't yet been in touch with them, except for exchanging a note with a man in his 70s in California who received one of Ryan's kidneys, Bryan Winslow said, adding he was really looking forward to meeting Gary Antognioni and his family.
"The guy wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for Ryan's heart," Bryan Winslow said.
Donne-Lynn added her thoughts, saying the poignancy of the five-year anniversary of Ryan's passing underscored the importance of families making decisions about organ donations. Also, she said she was keenly anticipating the meeting up with the Antognioni family.
"I am so excited about it," she said.