Donating His Heart and Soul

September 10, 2013

Meet Good Neighbor Finalist Joel Pratt. After the tragic loss of his wife, he dedicated his life to saving others — and to keeping her memory alive.

Every life Joel Pratt helps to save keeps the memory of his beloved wife, Lynda, alive. After nearly 25 years together, she died in 1998 after a three-year battle with breast cancer. Pratt wasn’t able to save her, but since then, it’s been his mission to save whomever else he can.

“Not being able to cure her took half my soul out of my body,” says Pratt, a broker with J.L. Pratt, REALTORS®, in Canton, Mass. “We tried everything” to save her, he says.

He can’t bear to see anyone suffer the way she did — or the way he did, for that matter. So he decided he would be a part of helping people who could be saved. For nine years, he has dedicated himself to raising money for, a nonprofit online service that matches patients who need an organ transplant with living donors.

“There are always more patients waiting for deceased donors than there are available organs, but living donors can literally save lives by adding to the supply now,” Pratt says. “Also, a living donor’s organ lasts much longer than a deceased donor’s organ.”

The median wait time nationally for a kidney transplant is 3.3 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But for some patients, that wait time can well exceed five years, depending on factors such as blood type, age, and geographic location. But because matches patients with living donors, the wait can be much shorter: The average patient who has found a donor through the site has gotten a transplant in six months.

Pratt's work helps people find organ donors faster, resulting in a better quality of life and even saving the lives of people who wouldn't have found an organ in time.

One of the people Pratt helped save is Stephen Meservey, who is in his 40s and lives outside Boston. He went into kidney failure because of diabetes and was on dialysis when a friend of his got Pratt’s card in 2012. His health at the time was growing dire.

“I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without getting wiped out,” Meservey says. “It was so hard to get through the work day.”

When he signed up on as a patient, Pratt immediately called him, as he does with many patients. “He told me exactly what steps to take every day,” Meservey says. Pratt walked Meservey through the process of creating a profile on, how to contact prospective donors on the site and how often to do so, and how to arrange travel needs through the organization once a donor match is found.

Before signing up for, Meservey had been told it would be three to four years before he’d get a kidney transplant. But found him a living donor in Seattle within a year.

“[The donor] just felt like God wanted him to do this,” says Meservey, who has had the new kidney for 6 months. “He actually thanked me for letting him give me a kidney.”

Since then, life has largely returned to normal for Meservey. He has energy for his four children, he’s back at work,and he’s been able to do much-needed renovations on his home. (“My house needed a lot of repairs,” Meservey admits.) His donor even flew out to Massachusetts to visit him after the operation.

Since 2004, Pratt has used his real estate sales skills to raise more than $1 million for the organization by soliciting property donations and then finding buyers. He finds people to donate homes and other property, and then he and others resell them and give the proceeds, including commission, to

“I don’t want to make money — I don’t need a lot,” Pratt says. “I want to own nothing but a set of golf clubs and a car.”

In addition to houses, Pratt has sold donated cars, boats, and entire stocks of inventory and furniture from stores going out of business. He finds donations and buyers through old-fashioned marketing: Just as he would go knocking on doors and passing out flyers as a real estate agent, he hits the pavement and passes out cards literally everywhere he goes. Pratt has found donors on the golf course as well as during his real estate transactions.

“Everyone knows someone who knows someone who needs an organ,” Pratt says. “You can find compassion anywhere.” CEO Paul Dooley says the organization has more than 200 volunteers, and Pratt “puts them all to shame. He lives his life to save other people’s lives.” As evidence of how far and wide Pratt spreads the word, Dooley says he orders 5,000 business cards at a time for Pratt. Dooley estimates that Pratt dedicates about 50 hours a week to’s cause. The organization has saved 500 lives since its inception, and Dooley attributes Pratt’s efforts to hundreds of those success stories.

“He is the most loving, caring person you’re ever going to see. He doesn’t let you give up,” Dooley says. “He’s the kind of person who’s like, if you run out of energy, here, take my energy.”

So far, has only matched donors with patients who need kidneys, which are the most commonly needed organs and the only ones that many hospitals will accept from living donors. When better transplant success rates can be proven for other organs from living donors, such as livers, lungs, and bone marrow, the organization plans to help patients who need those, says Dooley.

For Meservey, Pratt and were literally a life-saver. “You wouldn’t be able to do it all yourself if it weren’t for that Web site,” Meservey says, his voice cracking as tears come to his eyes. “It takes your breath away. ... I just thank God the process was there for me to find a donor.”

That’s the kind of work Pratt's wife would have wanted him to do. “You wake up in the morning, and you know who you’re working for,” Pratt says. “Helping people rebuilds my heart and soul. … When someone walks up to you and says, ‘Please help save my life,’ you have to do it.”

—By Graham Wood

Contact Joel Pratt at or via email at Learn more about at