David Aresty, a prominent UNMC transplant patient, looked forward to flying Omaha friends to his alma mater, Alabama.
Last Monday he sent an upbeat email with a schedule of events leading up to Saturday's football game against Tennessee. By Wednesday, though, he wasn't feeling well and the trip was off.
That night he collapsed at his home in Far Hills, N.J., and died at 56.
“He was a remarkable human being,” said a stunned Dr. Ken Cowan, director of the Eppley Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “He and his wife, Patti, have been real cheerleaders for UNMC.”
Patti was in Omaha on Wednesday, preparing for a separate weekend trip to California with Omaha friends, when she received word that David had collapsed.
The funeral is today at Temple B'nai Or in Morristown, N.J., and a number of Omaha friends will attend, including Amy Volk of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
“David worked out, kept a strict diet and really took care of himself,” she said. “He loved life.”
The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but Dr. Cowan said that because it came so unexpectedly, it apparently wasn't related to Aresty's July 2012 liver transplant.
The Arestys first came to UNMC in the 1980s, and he received a bone-marrow transplant in 1989. In gratitude for his life being saved, the couple donated $500,000 to UNMC's Lied Transplant Center, where a patient waiting area is named for them.
He spoke at the center's 1998 dedication. More than that, the couple have said that over the past quarter-century they have referred nearly 200 people for treatment in Omaha.
David became ill again, and in 2006 was diagnosed with hepatitis C, apparently the result of a blood-platelet transfusion in Omaha while he was treated for lymphoma. He said he didn't blame anyone because screenings back then hadn't advanced to the level they did later.
When he became so sick that he needed a new liver, he and Patti moved to Omaha around Nov. 1, 2011. They did so to be close by and so they wouldn't have to travel in winter weather when a liver became available. They hoped the wait might be just two or three months.
During their wait, David attended the Nebraska-Ohio State football game in Lincoln. In January, he received a visit from Alabama lineman Barrett Jones, who had just accepted the Outland Trophy in Omaha.
The outgoing Patti, meanwhile, volunteered for charities in Omaha and made a number of friends.
The months wore on. David's prominence as a financial supporter of UNMC, officials said, didn't move him up on the transplant list. His dire health eventually did.
Dr. Cowan recalled David's sense of humor, even in his sickness. At dinner at Midtown Crossing, he made everyone laugh by ordering “liver and onions.”
By coincidence, his pager buzzed later that evening with word that a liver was available from a person who had just died. He offered a prayer for the donor's family.
The transplant went well, and Patti soon said that every place she went, people had read about David and offered congratulations.
“The entire community is celebrating with us,” she said. “We love Omaha.”
After his recuperation, the couple returned home but would visit Omaha for checkups. David was planning one on Thursday before flying friends to Alabama.
Earlier this year he was honored by his college fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, as the “ZBT International Man of the Year.”
In April 2011, a tornado had struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., home of the university. As vice president and chief operating officer of Alfred Dunner, a 340-employee women's apparel company in New York City, Aresty organized the company's donation of more than $1 million in new clothing for those affected by the disaster.
He and his wife also donated to UNMC's planned Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.
David Aresty was looking forward to a lot more than showing off Crimson Tide football and his alma mater to Omaha friends. Two of the couple's three children are engaged to be married within the next year.
“He felt incredibly well taken care of here, and was tightly linked to the university,” Dr. Cowan said. “And he always took time to thank and speak to all the people he came across — doctors, nurses, techs, housekeeping. He was a very warm and appreciative human being who made everybody feel good.”
David once said: “There's something unique about Nebraska and something unique about Omaha. You guys should cherish that.”