Former Allegheny Teammates Reunite Through Organ Donation Awareness

Tucked away in a quiet corner during a family ski trip to Vermont, alumna Jess Goeller ’04 finds a moment of solitude to reflect on her time at Allegheny College. Goeller works full-time as a project manager of medical devices at Bayer in Pittsburgh. She’s also a wife and mother of four boys, which makes uninterrupted time hard to come by.

“Allegheny College is a family unit and we will always be family. Time will never lessen the love, friendship, and compassion we have for one another,” Goeller says.

It’s been twenty years since she graduated, but the biology major still keeps in touch with her former women’s basketball teammates from time to time, namely her longtime friend from high school and college roommate, Meredith McDonough ’05, with whom she shares a bond and sisterhood that goes well beyond college. The former teammates have reconnected recently to help raise awareness for organ donation, an endeavor Goeller supports on a deeply personal level as her ten-year-old son, Lucas, is in critical need of a liver transplant.

This is the second time the Goeller’s are seeking a life-saving liver donation for Lucas, and the family is feeling a sense of urgency this time around.

“When your liver is failing, you ride such a fine line between life and death – you could be stable one day and very unstable the next day, there’s no way to anticipate where you’re headed,” says Goeller.

Goeller has been leading the fight to find an organ donor for Lucas to receive a life-saving liver transplant. In 2015, when Lucas was 2 years old and near death, he received a liver from a young girl in Nebraska who died from brain cancer.

Eight years later, this past November, doctors told Goeller that Lucas’ liver was failing, and he needed another transplant, so she launched a social media and billboard campaign called “Save Lucas.”

“This whole campaign is to get Lucas a liver so he survives, but I think for Jess and the family, it’s also a really big priority to bring attention and awareness to how the process works with organ donation, and to register as many donors as possible and help as many people as they can on the transplant list,” McDonough says.

The Goellers continue to seek comfort through their shared love of the outdoors, where the four brothers relish in hunting, skiing, fishing, and hiking.

“When Lucas was dying from liver failure when he was two years old, we found that nature and being outside was so good for us. It helped us get out of the hospital or out of the house and see the beauty in life, which provided us with a lot of hope to keep fighting,” says Goeller.

The tight-knit family of six also learned to lean on their support system of family and friends, who are helping to spread awareness about the importance of organ donation through their social media platforms and personal networks. With over 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list, one of their goals is to register as many people as they can on Donate Life America, the nationally recognized nonprofit responsible for managing the National Donate Life Registry at

That’s also where Goeller’s relationship with her former Allegheny women’s basketball teammate, McDonough, came into play. The communication and media major and political science minor works for Hearst Media as a news anchor in Orlando, Florida, and reconnected with Goeller in December to see if there was anything she could do to help spread the word about Lucas.

“It’s tough when you leave college and start your careers and family life gets so busy, but the beautiful thing about having Meredith as an Allegheny Gator and family member is that when I reached out to her, it was like we were still in college. She didn’t hesitate one second, and she already had a plan in her head to support our family,” Goeller says.

McDonough is also a mother of four, with kids around the same age as Goeller, and as soon as she heard the news about Lucas, she knew she needed to take action. After a story about Lucas aired on WTAE in Pittsburgh, McDonough asked her station to share the segment in Orlando, where Lucas’s doctor coincidentally performs monthly liver transplant surgeries.

“You want to go the extra mile to make sure Lucas’s story is out there because when you’re a teammate, you’re a teammate for life,” McDonough says. “We were a tight-knit community at Allegheny, we were a very close team, and that’s the beauty of being a college athlete – you have a devotion to others in addition to yourself, and you have to put others in front of yourself, which makes a huge difference in how you carry yourself the rest of your life.”

Just as they did as teammates at Allegheny, McDonough and Goeller are working in tandem to share the message about organ donation with their Allegheny community in the hopes of registering as many donors as possible.

“I had always dreamed of making an impact in the community and helping those in need.  I never would have dreamed that I would be fighting to save my son Lucas and many like him by spreading the importance of organ donation awareness across the world,” says Goeller. “I now dream of signing up a record number of organ donors while we wait for a generous donor to save Lucas. Let’s save one person at a time and get them back home to their families.”

The bond among alumni is always notable, but in this case, it could be a lifeline.

If you’re interested in registering to become an organ donor, please visit:

To support the Save Lucas campaign on social media, please visit: