updated 4/15/2009 11:12:47 AM ET 2009-04-15T15:12:47

The wife of a Massachusetts man whose tissue was donated for the nation’s second face transplant said her husband told her before heart transplant surgery that he wanted to donate his organs if he didn’t survive the operation.

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Susan Whitman told The Boston Globe for a story in Wednesday’s editions that she was surprised, however, when organ bank officials asked if she would approve of the donation of Joseph Helfgot’s face.

Whitman and their four children held a conference call and quickly agreed it was the “right thing to do.”

Helfgot, 60, learned to appreciate the value of life from his Holocaust survivor parents, friends and family said.

“It’s easy to sign up and say you are an organ donor,” Whitman said. “It’s another to have your family understand and facilitate that. It’s painful and it takes strength and a will to do it.”

Helfgot never woke up after his April 5 heart transplant and the face operation took place on April 9, the day before Helfgot’s funeral.

“He would be happy to know he went out with a bang,” she said.

The recipient’s identity hasn’t been released, but Whitman said she would one day like to meet the man who received her husband’s nose, roof of his mouth, upper lip, facial skin, muscles and nerves. Doctors have said the recipient will not look like the donor because his bone structure is different.

Helfgot was a New York City native who founded MarketCast, one of Hollywood’s leading research companies.

Whitman said she went public with her story because she hoped to inspire others to become organ donors.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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