‘I woke up to Dan yelling for help. He was at the top of the stairs with his inhaler telling me it wasn’t working. Dad was hysterical screaming at me to get there right now.’

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“I have two older brothers, Tom who’s 30, and Dan who’s 28. I also have a lot of cousins, the two I consider brothers are Jon who’s 29 and Frank who is 26 like me. We all grew up together in the same town in the suburbs of New Jersey and went to all the same schools. Just about everyone in town was friends with a Bassillo. We formed such a strong bond over the years by leaning on each other when life tried to knock us down. Growing up with all boys guaranteed a tom boy life for me. Tom, Dan, and Jon usually ganged up on me. I specifically remember the day in 8th grade when I decided to stop being such a brat. I started to build a relationship with the boys I looked up to my whole life. My family has always been into exciting adventures and I was taught to ride quads, dirt bikes and snowboards, when I was pretty young.

Teen smiles with her boy cousins on either side of her
Alex Bassillo

When I was a freshman and Dan was a senior, my family fell on some hard times and I needed to grow up quickly. I really looked up to Tom during that time while he stepped up to fill in for my dad for about a year while he was gone. When I look back at that time, even though it was one of the hardest for our family, I feel comfort. For some reason that dark year is one of the highlights of my life and I remember feeling so pure. When I would get scared at night, I would lie in bed and listen to Tom and Dan’s footsteps above me and it made me feel safe.

Tom and Dan always had an amazing group of friends who were there for them throughout everything. When Tom turned 21 he joined the Navy and moved out of the house. This is when Dan became not just my brother but my best friend. With Tom gone and my dad home, Dan and I only had each other to lean on. He taught me everything I know. When something would break I would sit out there and he would teach me how to fix it. He taught me how to weld and how to flush my radiator. He taught me how to drive stick, how to off road, and which gear to use when you’re in the mud or crawling over rocks. The part of myself I’m most proud of came from him.

We always just watched TV until he had to go to work. He taught me all about superheroes and turned me into a Spiderman fan just like him. He took me to every Marvel movie to date. There were a few months we saw Black Hawk Down every single day and sometimes twice. I could tell what scene was on by hearing one note of the background music. If one of us wasn’t home we would text the other one whatever line it was on and then reply with the next. I probably have a hundred texts saying ‘Super 64 is down.’ He was the smartest person I know. He only had to watch something once to retain all the information. It amazed everyone. I loved learning from him and he loved teaching me. I was never into Star Wars but we were watching one of them one day and I asked him a stupid question and he got out his Star Wars encyclopedia and made me listen to the entire thing. If I interrupted him he would start all over. It made me nuts but sometimes I would pretend to not know things because I knew he wanted to explain it to me.

Woman smiles in selfie with her cousin she treats as brother
Alex Bassillo

The last thing we did together was see Tom Segura at the Welmont Theater and he also took me to see the new Fantastic Beasts movie on my birthday. Dan knew I always had a hard time keeping friends. He knew when and how much I was hurting and was there for me not just when I fell but when he thought I was starting to lean a little the wrong way. We had been through so much together and always had each-other’s back no matter how small or stupid the issue was. Whenever I would tag along with him and his friends, he never made me feel like the annoying little sister. He made me feel like part of the group and he never left me behind. I cherished that about him and it’s one of the things I miss the most.

Young man who has since passed stands outside in formal attire beside his parents
Alex Bassillo

My parents raised us Christian and Dan helped me grow in my faith as well. I was dreading the day he moved out of the house so whenever he asked me to do something with him I never said no. I always put him first. One day I woke up to Dan yelling for help. I shot up and ran out of my room and he was at the top of the stairs with his inhaler telling me it wasn’t working. I had taken him to the hospital for this before so I was pretty confident it was just like last time. At this point my dad walked in from wherever he was and I was telling Dan it was going to be OK and I was going to take him to the hospital. My dad already had his jacket and shoes on so I told him to take Dan. I had a weird feeling and I decided to go after them. I figured as long as my dad doesn’t call me everything was going to be OK.  I was three quarters of the way there when my phone rang. I saw it was my dad and instantly my heart fell to my stomach.

Teen pouts her lips in selfie with her late cousin standing behind her
Alex Bassillo

I picked up the phone and my dad was hysterical screaming at me to get there right now and that there were 11 doctors surrounding him pumping his chest. I was speechless and in a state of panic. I ran inside to the front desk and as I was about to ask where my brother was I heard my dad from across the hospital and followed his screams. He was standing there crying on the phone with my mom. My brother was somewhere in the middle of a crowd of swarming doctors. I asked my dad what was happening and he told me Dan passed out halfway there and they lost his pulse and haven’t gotten it back yet. I was in utter shock and completely numb. The only thing I felt was this tingling running through my body I never want to feel again. My dad and I sat there praying while people ran in and out of his room. I knew it was bad when the grief counselor sat down next to me. After 20 minutes a doctor came out and told us they have been doing CPR for 20 minutes and they did everything they could but my brother was gone.

The grief counselor and a priest walked us to a little room and my dad fell to the floor. I didn’t feel anything. Through his tears my dad asked me how we were going to tell mom. I still feel guilty but I made my dad call her while I called Tom. Tom answered right away.  ‘Tom, Dan is dead.’ He kept asking what was going on and I calmly told him but once I comprehended what I was saying, I broke. I started crying and looked down the hallway and saw my mom. She told me from across the hallway ‘They have a pulse.’ I told Tom what she said and told him I’d call him back. They got his pulse back after 30 minutes and were moving him to the ICU. I prayed my heart out just pleading with God ‘anyone but him.’

They had Dan on life support for about a week running all kinds of tests on his brain. My mom and I slept at the hospital every night and Tom and Lauren got the quickest flight they could. Once word got out there were hundreds of our friends and family in and out of that waiting room at all hours of the day and night. It was a waiting room for the whole ICU and my family took over the whole thing. We ended up feeding all of the other families waiting for their loved ones. It was really awesome to see these strangers come together. We all needed each other and I’m really glad I was able to be part of that. As the week went on pretty much everyone I knew had been in and out of the hospital. We were able to go in and sit with Dan and talk to him and pray with him. I was able to witness firsthand how many lives my brother had touched. Then, we lost him for good. I started to imagine my life without him and I couldn’t bear to think about it. He had been the most important person in my life and I didn’t know if I could do this without him. I was begging God to take me instead. I would have given absolutely anything to trade places with him. He was better than me in every way and had so much more potential. He just deserved to live. I couldn’t understand why God would bring him back just to take him away again. But when I was able to take a step back I realized I don’t think I could have handled losing him all at once. God gave us all a chance to say goodbye. Nothing was going to change what happened but I’m so glad we eased into it throughout the week instead of just one day.

Cousins hold sign at dirt bike competition
Alex Bassillo

I have already learned so much through the worst pain of my life. I still want to throw up whenever I think about getting through this life without my brother. Thinking about all the things Dan is going to miss is hard but the every day stuff is worse. There is an empty chair at dinner and no one to bitch to when dad pisses me off. When I lay in bed there are no more footsteps to help me fall asleep and I no longer feel as safe as I once did. I live with the pain of losing the most important person in my life every day and on top of everything I also have to watch my parents lose their kid. Losing a sibling is supposed to be one of the worst things a person can suffer and I think the only thing worse is losing a child.

I have tried to find comfort in as many things as I can. The doctors asked us if we wanted to donate Dan’s organs and we didn’t hesitate. We knew he would’ve wanted it and it would mean that a couple less families ever have to feel this pain. They explained to us how rare it is to be able to donate and most of the time the donor has to be in my brothers situation, on life support, in order to donate. The organs have to be kept in good condition which they were since he’s been in the hospital for a week monitoring everything. They told us only 1% of people who die are able to donate all their organs and Dan would be a hero. My mom and I sat down with someone from the Sharing Network to fill out all the paperwork. We had to agree to donate everything, his heart, his liver, kidneys, eyes, skin and arteries for fixing baby hearts. We told them we want to meet the recipients as soon as we can. Both parties have to agree to meet. On December 3rd2018 they took my brother off life support and removed his organs. They had a flag raising ceremony at the hospital for him and flew his flag outside the hospital for 24 hours. A few weeks later we received a letter in the mail with descriptions of who Dan’s organs went to; six people. He saved a one-year-old and a six-year-old boy. It’s comforting to think about the lives Dan saved. 6 people will wake up tomorrow with their families. I lost my best friend on December 3rd but at the same time 6 families got their lives back. It helps believing Dan had to die so others could live. He was a Christmas miracle for so many people; the answer to so many prayers. I know that it’s a life he would have been proud of. Even though he’s gone, he’s still my biggest influence to live a life he would be proud of. That motivates me to get out of bed every day. Not a lot of people know what its like to lose a brother but even less know what its like to be a hero’s little sister.”

Woman smiles at her late cousin as they dance
Alex Bassillo

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