The term Fight Like Frank is not some coined term that one thinks of in their basement one night. Fight Like Frank is a phrase that sums up the life of Francis Gessler and the many obstacles that he overcame during his 30 years. Frank was a fighter from the moment he was born. Born at 7 weeks premature, and given a small chance of survival, doctors referred to him as a ‘scrapper’. Frank showed the doctors he was more than a scrapper, and proved from the beginning that he was not going to let anyone tell him how to be or what he could accomplish. At a young age Frank was diagnosed with a speech impediment that presented him with challenges as a young child. He never once let his impediment get in his way of living. Being diagnosed with CMT, a rare crippling bone disease that affects your hands and feet was just another obstacle to overcome for Frank. He was told by doctors that surgery would be required as he got older to prevent him from being wheelchair bound. Not only did Frank refuse to have surgery, but he never let this disease slow him down. He sure didn’t miss playing in any hockey games as a kid or an adult. Even if Frank was in pain, nobody would have ever known because he never complained.
Besides being an avid hockey fan and player, Frank was very passionate about Fishing. Whether marlin fishing or flounder pounding Frank never missed a chance to be out on a boat with a rod and reel. Frank and his family grew up spending summers fishing out of Indian River Delaware on the family boat, ‘The Boys Toy’. Over the years, Frank built a reputation for being one of the better fishermen in the area. There were long days where he would spend 60 miles offshore fishing for tuna and marlin then turn around and spend all night in the inlet fishing for striped bass. If you were fortunate enough to fish with Frank, you would not leave the marina without some sort of life long memory. Whether you caught a huge fish, or you were the brunt of his practical jokes, days fishing with him always provided amusement and favorable memories.
His love of the sea led him to attend the SUNY Maritime College. At SUNY Maritime he gained the knowledge and skill set to save himself as well as the lives of 6 other men after a 80 mile voyage off the coast in the boat, The Chief. In September 2006, The Chief hit a large object and sank within 2 minutes. After the boat sank, the 7 men aboard spent the next 48 hours in a 4 man life raft with minimal water, no food, and extreme weather conditions. Franks positive attitude, survival skills, and determination to fight were key factors for their safe return home. Frank was engaged to his now wife, Christine and would not let her down; he told her he would be home, he didn’t say that he would be a little late though.
Since being lost at sea, Frank had multiple brushes with death, such as his truck being swept away in a river or nearly being struck by lightning while running a paving machine at work. He downplayed the near death situations as if they were normal. Besides near death experiences, he also defied other tests of strength. During his time at SUNY Maritime College while playing the sport he loved most, hockey, he was hit in the groin area with puck. He had to have immediate reconstructive surgery to correct the damage. After the surgery, the doctor told him that he would recover, but was uncertain that he would ever be able to have kids. Nine years later, Frank and Christine, had a beautiful baby boy, Lucas, whom he never doubted would come. The day Lucas was born was the proudest moment of his life. In the 9 short months Frank had with Lucas; Lucas went everywhere him. They went fishing together, Flyers and Phillies games, the beach, and even the Kenny Chesney concert. He was just happy to be a father.
Those who had the chance to get to know Frank, whether in the construction world, fishing world or friends and classmates, knew that Frank was a unique and compassionate person with a passion for life. Even when nothing came easy for Frank, he would find humor in a frightening situation and could make you feel better when you were worried about him. The smile on his face and his playful humor could bring light to anyone, even on their darkest days. He was always wanted to make others feel good, either by making them laugh or lending a hand if they needed anything. He was the one that would shovel out a stranger’s car in 3 feet of snow or change a tire in the middle of the night. Frank had a heart of gold and would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He treated every person the same, regardless of their race, gender, age, or social status.
On September 11th, 2011 Frank suffered a Brain Aneurism while playing at a club hockey game. Frank went into cardiac arrest at the time of the rupture, and went into a coma that he would never come out of. His family and friends sat around Jefferson hospital for a week praying for a miracle to occur. As the week carried on, Frank’s condition was rapidly declining, and there was no chance for a recovery. Through a program called, The Gift of Life, we learned that Frank could save other people through organ donation. We were told that Frank was fortunate enough to be part of the 1 percent of the 2 million people who die each year to be eligible for organ donation.
After meeting with the doctors and the Gift of Life the question we presented ourselves with was, ‘What would Frank want’? If Frank were to be sitting in the room with us a week prior to the incident, and knew of all of the circumstances, what scenario would he choose? The choice was clear to us that Frank would be the first one to give his organs to other individuals in need of his stamina and fighter spirit. The decision was made to remove Frank from life support and allow him to give the gift of life to those in need. After leaving the conference room on the 9th floor of the Jefferson Hospital we were immediately greeted by friends and family who were all anxiously awaiting for us to come out of the conference room. They told us to hurry over and look out the window. We were amazed to see the largest and most clear double rainbow that any of us had ever seen stretching over center city Philadelphia. What was even more amazing was the fact that it had not rained at all that day, and there were hardly any clouds in the sky at the time. Rainbows have grown to be a large sign of hope for our family, as nearly 5 years prior to that day we were greeted by another rainbow as a symbol of hope. While Frank was lost out at sea we received a call from the admiral of the United State Navy stating that they searched all day and night and did not find a single piece of debris, and the possibility of a rescue was becoming more and more unlikely. Our family is extremely faithful and never lost hope during Frank’s adventure at sea. We quietly said a prayer and asked for some sign that Frank was ok, and minutes later a huge rainbow stretched over the sky. This was a sign that Frank was ok, and would be coming home, and sure enough Frank was found that day. Seeing another rainbow stretched over Philadelphia was another sign from Frank; however, this time he was smiling down on us reaffirming the decision that we made was the right one, and the one that Frank would want.
It was our miracle. Not the miracle we were originally praying for, but the miracle of life. We were praying so hard for Frank to live, that it turns out the real miracle is that we were able to help thousands of other individuals to live through Frank. As a family, we were able to find some peace in knowing that his kidneys were transplanted the next day to a 35 year old mother of three, and a middle aged woman who had been waiting years for a kidney. Both of them would not have lived much longer without a kidney. We have since learned that his corneas have also been transplanted to two different women who have now been given the gift of sight. Frank started his life fighting to live, and ended his life fighting so that others may live.