FAQs for Communicating with Your Donor Family

By | October 12th, 2017

by Jacquelyn Kates, LSW, CT
Family Support Counselor, Gift of Life Donor Program


Gift of Life Donor Program encourages transplant recipients to write to their donor families.

Our Family Support Services Counselors review all correspondence and facilitate

the exchange of letters between recipients and donor families.

FAQs for Communicating with Your Donor Family

The hospital did not give me much information about my donor. How can I find out more information about my donor and donor family?
For confidentiality purposes, recipients are not given personal information about their donor or donor family. However, recipients are encouraged to write to their donor family should they wish to learn more.

I do not want to upset my donor family by writing them a letter. When is a good time to write and send the letter?

The best time to write and send a letter is when the recipient is ready. Acknowledging the gift of transplant and thanking the donor family can be an important step in the recipient’s own healing process. If the donor family is not ready to receive a letter, they have the choice to keep it unopened.


Who in my family can write?
Anyone is invited to write to the donor family.

What should I write in my donor letter?
There is no perfect letter. We recommend saying thank you to the donor family for their compassionate decision or honoring their loved one’s wishes. A recipient could share how their life has changed since transplant and what they hope to accomplish with a second lease on life.

Is there anything I should not write?
Identifying information such as last names, addresses, phone numbers, email, and social media accounts may not be shared. If this information is included, it will be removed prior to forwarding to the family. However, make sure recipient includes full name, address, date of transplant, transplant center, and organ received on a separate piece of paper. This information is needed to identify the donor family and forward the letter.

Where should I send my letter?
Gift of Life Donor Program
Attn: Family Support Services
401 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123

Is it normal to feel guilty after receiving a transplant?
It is very common for recipients to feel guilty after transplant, which is sometimes known as survivor guilt. Speaking to other recipients in a transplant center support group setting or talking with a donor family can be helpful in relieving these uncomfortable feelings. Gift of Life Donor Program and Family House have many donor family volunteers that are open to talk with recipients about their experience.

Can the donor family write to me/my family?
The donor family is able to write to recipients following the same guidelines and process.

When will I hear from my donor family?
Unfortunately, a recipient may not hear from their donor family. Grief is a unique experience and some families may not be ready to write or may not want to.

How can I meet my donor family?
Donor family and recipient meetings are shown in the media, but many recipients do not have the opportunity to meet their donor family. Before a meeting can take place, it is important that there be an understanding of what might occur at a meeting. That’s why Gift of Life Donor Program requires that the donor family and recipient write several letters to build a relationship through correspondence before meeting. Both must express an interest in sharing contact information and meeting. At that point, Family Support Services will send Consent and Release forms.
Once the signed forms are received, personal information will be shared to facilitate direct communication.



By | September 13th, 2017

Have you ever wondered how the people and charities you care about will fair when you are no longer here to help them?

A good way to make certain that your values live on is by writing down what’s important to you. Another is by making provisions in your estate plan to ensure your charitable support continues.

By including the Family House in your will/bequest you can help to ensure that the Family House is able to maintain their affordable fees and broad array of services for all who need support— now and in the future. It is an easy and simple way that you can support the future of the Family House, and continue care for transplant patients and families. Bequests can be a percentage of the
remainder of your estate or a specific dollar amount. If you already have prepared a will, you can simply add a codicil amending it to include the Family House.


Here area few reasons that individuals or couples may need to update their will:

• A change in marital status
• The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
• The death of an individual included in your will
• Retirement or relocation to another state
• A change in assets
• The start of a new business
• New tax laws

Jay and Pat Souder, Legacy Society Members



Let us know so we can celebrate with you now! Enjoy recognition today as a Legacy Society member. Donors who notify us that they have made arrangements for planned gifts will be recognized as members of our prestigious Legacy Society. Visit www.GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org for more information.


TO DISCUSS MAKING A PLANNED GIFT TO GIFT OF LIFE FAMILY HOUSE OR IF YOU HAVE ALREADY NAMED US IN YOUR WILL, please contact Sara Cohen, Development Manager at 267-546-9812 oremail scohen@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org. Please consult your attorney, tax advisor or financial advisor before making a bequest or updating your estate plan.


Alicia Hoover – 13th Annual Kidney Open Golf Outing

By | August 29th, 2017

On August 28, 2017, Alicia Hoover, a former Family House guest, delivered a warm heartfelt speech about her transplant journey. She also described how Gift of Life Family House supported her and her family throughout the whole process. Read below as Alicia addressed the attendees of the 13th Annual Kidney Open Golf Outing.

“First of all, I would like to thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing fundraising event. The family house has done so much for myself and my family over the last few years. They have become and continue to be a second family to all of us.
My father and I were both diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. This lung disease is terminal. After diagnosis life expectancy is on average 2-4 years. The only treatment currently available is a lung transplant.

On March 1, 2013 two days before my dad’s 46th birthday he received his call and was on his way to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia to receive his new set of lungs. The transplant was successful, however after a 6 month recovery in the hospital many complications my dad lost his battle and passed away on August 21,2013.
At the time of his passing, I was almost 5 months pregnant with my 3rd child. From that point forward I was on oxygen full time. I went as high as 20 liters of oxygen at some points just to walk across the living room. I ended up going into respiratory failure and having an emergency c-section at only 32 weeks in my pregnancy. I delivered a healthy 4lb baby boy. We named him Chance Edward. After 2 weeks in the NICU Chance came home with us to join his big brother Jace and his sister Kyrstin.

Less than a year later I was ready to begin my transplant journey. I was evaluated and placed on the list at Temple University in Philadelphia awaiting a double lung transplant. I waited about 1 ½ years and finally my call came. I received my transplant on February 29,2016. As you can tell my surgery was a success. During all of these surgeries and appointments my mom and my husband, Dave, stayed at the Family House while we did our job in the hospital on the road to recovery from our transplants.

The Family House offers so much to its patrons that stay there. We have met and continue to meet so many amazing people waiting on transplants or recovering from their transplants. And it’s not just the patients, it is their family and loved ones as well. The Family House allows all these people to come together and create a great support system for the patients but also for the caregivers. I have been on both ends and I truly believe the caregivers have a way harder job than the patient in my eyes. The Family House offers support groups for the caregivers which is a huge necessity. The staff will go above and beyond for any one of us staying there.

They are genuine and care about all the families that come through there. To them you are not just a number. They know you. They ask how your children are doing back home. They know you by name. I love going there and meeting so many people, sharing our stories, eating dinner with so many people who are stronger than they ever thought they could be. I am thankful for the Family House as it has not just offered a place of shelter for my family but provided me with a whole other family that I love and care about as if they were my own blood relatives. Thank you to all of you for your time and generous donations that benefit this amazing home for so many people. Without the Family House there would be patients and their families lost among the health care system not knowing which way to go. The Family House gives them a sense of direction and allows them to meet others that are going through the same situations so they tend to guide one another on each journey. All of you are amazing for being here today and if you take anything from what I have said today, please walk away knowing that the money you raised today is going to an amazing cause for some incredibly strong individuals. You are making it possible for the Family House to offer an environment that is safe to people going through extremely rough times in their lives and again for that, I thank you.”


Comcast Cares for Transplant Families

By | August 1st, 2017

On April 19-20, Gift of Life Family House was grateful to welcome back community partner volunteers from Comcast Philadelphia for their 16th Annual Comcast Cares Day!

Comcast Cares Day is a worldwide initiative that brings together thousands of Comcast employees, their families, friends and networks from around the world to volunteer and make change happen in local communities.

Over a two day span, volunteers from Comcast’s Tax Accounting team worked hard to make a difference at the Family House by assisting with special projects like painting, repairs, planting flowers and gardening, cleaning, and cooking meals for the families in residence! Volunteers even utilized their artistic skills by painting a beautiful butterfly mural in the lower level of the Family House.

We are thankful to the Comcast volunteers for their time, passion and dedication to the Gift of Life Family House mission!

Is your company looking to partner with a nonprofit organization?

Through volunteerism, sponsorships, grants and program support, hundreds of corporations like Comcast have partnered with Gift of Life Family House to support transplant patients and their families. In return, corporations receive unique recognition and brand visibility through our various communications and social media platforms as well as opportunities for employee team building activities and ways to engage and reconnect with clients.

Gift of Life Family House invites you to join this growing group of corporate partners – who help provide a “home away from home” to transplant families. If your business or corporation is interested in supporting programs, events or other initiatives at Gift of Life Family House, we would be happy to help build an impactful partnership.

For more information contact Sara Cohen, Development Manager at scohen@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org or call 267-546-9812.


Caregiver Lifeline Spotlight

By | July 26th, 2017

Caregiver Lifeline

by Laura Giannotti, MSW
Gift of Life Family House Social Worker

Finding Support through your Hospital Chaplain

The transplant journey can bring up many different emotions, questions, and even doubts about your spiritual or religious belief system. For some, faith and spirituality may grow during this time, while for others it raises questions and doubts. Hospital/medical chaplains can offer support and comfort for you and your family regardless of faith, spirituality, practices, or belief system. Chaplains are professionally trained individuals who reach across all faith lines to support patients and their families during a difficult medical time.

How can the Chaplain help you during the transplant process?

Be an additional support person by providing a listening ear Chaplains can offer a warm, compassionate, and judgment-free presence. There may be times when at the hospital you feel lonely, anxious, angry, or confused. Talking with the chaplain about your experiences and feelings may help you feel better. Chaplains recognize that patients and families come from different cultural and religious backgrounds and their goal is to offer you guidance and support in line with your beliefs and comfort level, not force their own beliefs on you. Along with offering support, a chaplain can lend an ear to simply hear your fears and celebrate your joys. Whether you are deeply spiritual, do not believe in a specific religion, or fall somewhere in between, you may want someone to talk to and hear your thoughts. Chaplains can be a sounding board for you, and even offer support around decision making and finding meaning in your own or a loved one’s illness.

Support your beliefs and practices and provide guidance Faith can impact one’s emotional and physical well-being and chaplains can help you strengthen your spiritual health, if desired. This can be in the form of discussing faith-based questions you may have or discussing uncertainties about what you are going through. It can be a conversation around deepening your beliefs. A chaplain may be able to help you with your spiritual needs, such as lending you a Bible, prayer rug, Sabbath candles, etc. Although the resources available will vary among different hospitals, chaplains want to support you and address your spiritual needs in any way that they can. Additionally there may be a time when you want to participate in a religious ritual or receive a sacrament– the chaplain can help you by leading, scheduling, and sometimes even designing these rituals and sacraments. They can also pray with you and for you at any time – while you are at the hospital with the patient for a transplant evaluation, post-transplant appointment, during a hospitalization, while you or the patient is waiting to go into transplant surgery, or while you are visiting the patient in recovery.

Help you connect or reconnect Is there someone you would like to connect or reconnect with? Chaplains can act as mediators or reconcilers when needed. They can also help you connect to a faith community or with a particular belief system. If you would like someone from your faith community to visit, a chaplain may be able to coordinate this visit as well. Hospital chaplains are typically available between Monday and Friday, but at many hospitals, services are available 24 hours a day. Contact your hospital chaplaincy office or speak to your transplant social worker or nurse for specific information regarding their services and your needs. Additionally, please feel free to contact the Caregiver Lifeline Program Social Worker at CaregiverLifeline@GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org.


Future Business Leaders of America to Create Awareness and Support Transplant Families

By | May 18th, 2017

Future Business Leaders of America to Create Awareness and Support Transplant Families

Students of the Souderton Area High School Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) recently hosted a bingo fundraiser to raise funds for Gift of Life Family House as well as raise awareness for organ and tissue donation as part of their community service project.

The fundraiser involved several FBLA students including Jayme Barnett, whose father received a life-saving liver transplant in September 2016.  “The mission of Gift of Life is important to me, especially now since my father received a transplant that saved his life. My focus for this project was to be able to educate others on organ and tissue donor awareness and help the mission that has saved so many lives… I also wanted to support those who are going through the transplant process at the Family House.” – Jayme Barnett

On March 29, 2017, members of the FBLA proudly presented the $3,000 proceeds, which will benefit the Family House’s Adopt-A-Family Program.

In addition, the FBLA group has established an Adopt-A-Blanket campaign where donations are collected to support materials to make blankets. With these supplies, students make warm, colorful fleece blankets for transplant patients and their families staying at the Family House. To date, the group has distributed over 100 blankets to transplant families.

This project also served as their platform at the FBLA state leadership conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania in April, where the group placed 5th in the state for their community service project presentation.


Keeping Families Together

By | March 16th, 2017

Valerie Guerin has been thinking and praying about hearts for a life very long time. When she was 20 weeks pregnant, Valerie and her husband, Mark, learned that their baby girl, Cora, was missing her entire left ventricle. The condition is known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS).

From the moment she was born, Cora underwent multiple surgeries to enable her heart to pump enough oxygen-rich blood through her body to sustain her. Though she had a rough start in life, she thrived. She loved to run and go horseback riding, learned to play the piano, and was a wonderful big sister to her bother, Stephen, and sister, Amelie.

When Cora turned 10, it became harder for her to breathe and she was listed for a heart transplant. In spite of this, Cora continued to participate in an after-school club, Character Strides, which incorporates character building and life skills into a running program.

It was difficult for Cora to understand how she could compete in the club’s 3-mile race and still need a heart transplant. That summer Cora was in and out of the hospital and doctors were contemplating putting her on a ventricular assist device (VAD) to buy her time until a new heart became available. During that hospitalization, Cora received a heart transplant and miraculous second chance at life thanks to a charitable act by a donor family. Now 11, Cora received the gift of life nearly a year after she last ran. She’s looking forward to running again soon.

Valerie and Cora together at the Family House.

Valerie and her family live in Connecticut where she is a stay-at-home mom. She made the decision to stop working in order to devote herself to managing Cora’s care. Now the mother of three, she describes motherhood as, “The best job I’ve ever known, with three wonderful little employers and a great colleague.”

Though Cora’s heart transplant was successful, the process wasn’t easy. She endured setbacks that kept her in the hospital for over two months. Thankfully Cora’s siblings, and other family members, were able to stay close by at the Family House.

“When Cora was well enough that Mark or I could leave her bedside, we got to spend time at the Family House with Steve and Amee, which meant a lot to us,” says Valerie.

On January 11th, Cora was discharged to the Family House. “I loved the proximity to the hospital of the Family House and the fact that we could focus on Cora’s recovery there,” explains Valerie. “It was wonderful that I didn’t have to bring her to crowded public places. We appreciated the volunteers who came in to cook and those who allowed Cora to cook with them.”

Cora says she also enjoyed visits with the therapy dogs who regularly visit the Family House while her own dog, Waggles, who she rescued, waited patiently for her to return home. She and Valerie also enjoyed getting haircuts from the stylist who visited the Family House.

Adds Valerie, “The Family House is a safe, comfortable place to recuperate and a really great transition to home. We went from the structure of hospitalization to the freedom to relax — when not running to appointments.”

Four weeks after Cora came to stay at the Family House, she and her family got the good news that she could go home.

Mother and daughter have shared lots of hugs throughout the transplant journey. “I admire the way she’s always taking care of me,” says Cora.

Valerie’s wish for Mother’s Day: “That we can stay together as a family and not have to be separated again.”

Mother’s Day, May 14th, is just around the corner. To show your love this Mother’s Day, please consider making a gift to the Family House. In return, we will mail our beautiful commemorative Mother’s Day card on your behalf to your special mother, spouse, sister, aunt, or friend. Learn more here: http://www.giftoflifefamilyhouse.org/support/springcampaign/.


Caregiver LifeLine Spotlight: Raw Food Diet Can Make a Difference for Caregivers

By | March 16th, 2017

By Lisa Beth Maguire, Founder and CEO of GetRealGetRaw. GetRealGetRaw was born out of Lisa’s belief that real, raw, organic foods can heal the mind and body.

Caregiving can cause so many stressors, which can often lead to physical health issues. The last thing you want is to have your own health concerns when you are caring for the health of your loved one! I want to share my story with you. Six years ago I was nearly crippled with arthritis. We had just installed a home elevator because I could barely climb stairs. My daughter wanted to try a raw food diet, so I decided to try it with her. After four weeks on this diet I flew to Colorado, forgetting my arthritis medicine. I thought after a day or two without my meds I wouldn’t be able to walk. To my amazement that never happened. From that day I have never taken another arthritis pill or any other medication for pain. I didn’t know that my arthritis was reversible, but I soon found out!

This was my wake-up call! It was such an “in my face” message – it is ALL about food! It is as much about what you do eat as what you don’t eat. By week six, I knew I had to share my experience with everyone I could reach. That was when I decided to create Get Real Get Raw (GRGR).

It starts with adding two words to your vocabulary: Raw Foods. These are plant-based foods “eaten in their whole, natural, uncooked and unprocessed state.” This way, they contain all the minerals and vitamins that our bodies need to function and thrive. I encourage you to research “Raw Foods” online. You will find a world of information on the healing power of raw food and many stories from others who have gone on a raw food diet.

Although I believe in the power of a raw food diet when ill, my goal is to educate people on the illness prevention power of raw food. Though every single raw food you add to your diet is powerful and important, adding GREENS is the real magic. Just adding one daily organic green smoothie, like the Groothie I created, is a giant step forward.

The Standard American Diet largely consists of processed junk food that hurts your body. When I started GRGR, I created an easy, delicious way to provide the body with a powerful dose of real nutrients. That was the beginning of the Groothie. Greens are the perfect food and when they are blended, they are healing. I wanted to find a way to get people to consume more greens and I believe the best way to do so is by adding greens to a fruit-filled smoothie.

Since I created the Groothie, I have heard countless stories of improved health by making a healthy green smoothie a part of everyday life. I encourage you to try the Groothie at home, before doctors’ appointments or long days in the hospital. It can be a great addition to your life to help to maintain healthy practices while you are caring for your loved one.

Lisa Beth Maguire, Founder and CEO of GetRealGetRaw

Groothie Smoothie Recipe:

Ingredients: 2 organic apples (diced) 3-4 bananas (frozen) 2 cups pineapple (diced) 2 handfuls of organic dark leafy greens (chopped) 2 cups filtered water

Instructions: 1. Wash all ingredients. 2 Peel bananas and pineapples. 3. Dice all fruits. 4. Add water. 5. Place ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Recipe makes 4 (16oz) servings.

You can read more about Get Real Get Raw and the Groothie Smoothie by visiting www.GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.com/resources Always consult your physician before altering or starting a new diet.


Students Come Together to Support Transplant Families & the Family House

By | March 16th, 2017

Arthur and students from the Lawrenceville School volunteering as Home Cook Heroes at the Family House.

You might recognize Arthur Thomas, a heart transplant recipient who walked his donor’s daughter down the aisle at her wedding last August. That sweet moment became a viral video sensation. It has been viewed by millions and has made a lasting impression on people around the world. But Arthur’s story and impact hits closer to home in a small community in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where a group of students came together to support the Gift of Life Family House and raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Twenty-six years ago, Arthur “Tom” Thomas was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a condition that causes the lower heart chambers to beat too quickly. During most of that time, Arthur was able to live comfortably without any serious problems. But in 2006, his condition worsened and he was in congestive heart failure. He finally received the news shortly after that a match had been found and he’d be receiving his precious gift of life with only hours to spare.

In 2007, just one year after receiving his life-saving transplant, Arthur decided he wanted to give back. He set out to educate students about the transplant process at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey where he used to be a college advisor to students. His wife, Nancy, currently serves as a Dean of the school. Arthur’s story inspired students to take the initiative to help spread awareness, and support those whose stories are similar to his. As a result, students created the Lives Saving Lives Club and asked Arthur to mentor as a faculty advisor. The Lives Saving Lives Club is completely student-operated and hosts a number of fundraisers and benefits, which all raise money for Gift of Life Family House. Students have turned what started as a small club into a community-wide effort to raise awareness and funds – and their success has been truly remarkable! The club’s devotion to the Family House began back in 2009 when the initial campaign to start the House began – and has since raised over $30,000! Their outstanding support and dedication to our mission helps provide our guests with comfortable lodging, hot meals, a fully stocked pantry, a free shuttle service and so much more. Such support helps alleviate stress transplant patients and families face day-to-day – mentally, physically and emotionally.

When the students of the Lives Saving Lives Club learned that construction for the Family House was breaking ground in 2011, they began to focus on both donation awareness and supporting transplant patients and families who come to Philadelphia for transplant-related care. The club hosts an annual Organ Donor Awareness Benefit Dinner where students, parents, family members and guests can enjoy a four-course meal and live string quartet. Proceeds raised from the event went toward programs at the Family House – such as the Adopt-A-Family Program. This program, thanks to generous supporters like the Lives Saving Lives Club, allows the Family House to keep nightly fees low, and ensures that no family will be turned away because they can’t afford to pay. In addition to their benefit, the club frequently visits the Family House to prepare and serve meals for transplant families through the Home Cook Hero Program. Arthur knows that visiting with transplant families and patients lets his students see the impact they have on their community. “The students are seeing folks who are going through this. It’s very real to them, and that’s special.”

The members of the Lives Saving Lives Club are truly making a difference in the community, and have helped many who are going through a similar journey that Arthur went through ten years ago. This experience is not only beneficial for the Family House and transplant families, but also an incredible eye-opener for members in the club. “With this club, I wanted to give the students a different perspective, and to show them just how precious life is,” said Arthur.

Groups and clubs, like the Lives Saving Lives Club, are one of the reasons the Family House is able to offer a “home away from home” to thousands of transplant patients and their families. Arthur and his students are an example of how one small step can lead to helping the greater good.


Caregiver LifeLine Spotlight: Managing the Many Roles in Your Life

By | March 16th, 2017

By Talia Giordano, MSW, LSW Gift of Life Family House Social Worker

Transplant caregivers are not only caregivers – they may also be a mom, dad, daughter, son, sibling, spouse, significant other, friend, peer, boss, coworker, etc. We all wear many hats in our lives – some of those roles may be long-lasting and some may come and go depending on our stage of life. Excelling at these many roles can be very gratifying and even enhance performance in those roles. However, multiple roles can also mean difficulty managing time, potentially disappointing someone or yourself, creating stress, and even feeling burnt-out. It is important to identify ways to manage each of our roles to avoid becoming overlystressed or burnt-out.

PRIORITIZE: Begin by writing down your different roles and important values and responsibilities within those roles. Think about which are most important and current. It’s helpful to be specific here. For instance, instead of writing family, write the specific roles within your family. Family may be very important to you, but your responsibilities related to each role may vary – example mom, son, or spouse. As you think meaningfully about your roles, you begin to identify the values you place within those roles, which can help to better prioritize and manage them


1. Spouse – spending [quality] time with my spouse, being an attentive and supportive spouse, feeling loved and providing love.

2. Caregiver – providing support and care to my spouse’s transplant needs such as transportation to appointments and medication help, encouraging them by being positive and bringing hope to my spouse.

3. Work/employee – accomplishing something important, feeling financially stable, helping people.

4. Parent – spending quality time with my adult child, providing support, feeling connected.

5. Friend – laughing with friends, having someone to listen, enjoying hobbies with someone.

PLAN:  Plan ways to fit important tasks and responsibilities into your schedule and write them into your calendar. If being a spouse and spending time with your spouse is important to you, then plan on ways to spend time together doing meaningful things. At this time you can also begin to think about whether you want to integrate certain roles, or keep them separate from one another. Integrating or separating is completely up to you and what you feel works best. For example – does spending time with your spouse by going to a clinic appointment also count as “spouse time?”

REFLECT: Sometimes we spend time on tasks or responsibilities that are not meaningful to us. It is important to reflect on how you feel about the different roles you play and how you are managing them. After some reflection, you may realize some tasks should be prioritized higher than others. Some tasks may be integrated with others, while some may not. For instance, if you feel your role as a spouse is weakening because your role as a caregiver is strengthening, then you can begin to identify ways to try and separate the two – example: spending meaningful time with your spouse separate from your transplant-related care time together – going to a movie vs. visiting the doctor. Reflecting on this can help you understand where changes might be best made to better manage the many roles you have as well as reduce stress and improve your overall quality of life.

Looking for additional support or information? Please reach out to our social worker, Talia Giordano, at caregiverlifeline@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org or 267-546-9817.

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