NJ Sharing Network, the New Providence-based nonprofit, federally-designated organization responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue donations in the state, announced the number of organ donors in a single year reached an all-time high as 222 generous individuals in New Jersey gave the gift of life in 2020, an 8% increase over last year’s previous record.
This donation milestone was achieved despite the unprecedented challenges and restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on organ donation and transplantation throughout the nation, especially in New Jersey where severe hospital patient surges forced the temporary suspension of routine medical care, elective surgeries and most transplant activity in April and May 2020. In addition, deceased patients with active COVID-19 virus were absolute rule outs for organ or tissue donation in 2020. Despite these challenges, NJ Sharing Network’s clinical staff continued to put their own lives at risk on the frontlines of care providing comfort and support to donor families.
“We owe this achievement first and foremost to the generous donors who gave the gift of life, as well as their families,” said Joseph Roth, president and CEO of NJ Sharing Network. “We are also deeply grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our team members and healthcare partners who have bravely worked throughout the difficult year to power our life-saving mission.”
In 2020, 572 organs were transplanted thanks to donors in New Jersey, including 339 kidneys, 124 livers, 50 hearts, 45 lungs and 14 pancreases. In addition, 46,462 tissue and eye donations healed and enhanced the quality of life of those in need. Tissue donations include eye corneas, heart valves, skin grafts, and bone grafts, ligament and tendons.
NJ Sharing Network has received many accolades for its role in helping to increase organ transplantation in the Garden State by 31% over the last decade. “An increase in awareness about donation, the growth of the state’s donor registry and advances in transplantation medicine have all contributed to a significant growth in lives saved by donation,” said Carolyn M. Welsh, vice president and chief clinical officer, NJ Sharing Network.
In November, five New Jersey cities, including Newark, Jersey City and Edison, were among the top ten highest in the U.S. for registrations on the National Donor Registry. NJ Sharing Network’s team of professionals, volunteers and community partners helped drive this impressive growth through online promotions, including a host of daily activities on its robust social media channels, on its website and through targeted e-mails and mailings. An easy-to-follow video detailing the steps to register as an organ donor via the iPhone Health App has received more than 20,000 views on social media. These successful outreach activities helped generate a 14% increase in New Jersey registrations on the National Donor Registry in 2020.
In New Jersey, nearly 4,000 people are on the organ transplant waiting list and one person dies every three days waiting for a transplant. One organ donor can save eight lives, and one tissue donor can enhance the lives of over 75 people.
The following are the inspiring stories of two of New Jersey’s 222 organ donor heroes in 2020:
Always There to Help Others
Melissa Daza was well-known and loved in her community as the owner and operator of Daza’s Subs and Deli in Keyport. Melissa’s husband James, and their six children, Justina, Nicolina, Haliemarie, William, Alexia and Angelina, remember her as a beautiful person inside and out. Even though Melissa suffered with many health issues, she always had the energy and strength to get up every morning and live life to its fullest.
“Melissa was our entire world,” said James. “She was always strong, caring and loyal, and the best mom a child could ever have.”
James, and Melissa’s mother, Anna Dockery, were both able to find some comfort after her untimely passing in May 2020 when they supported her wish to give the gift of life to others. Melissa’s liver, kidneys and lungs saved four people who were awaiting life-saving transplants.
“Melissa had mentioned to us several times that if anything were to ever happen to her, she would like to help save a life by being an organ donor,” said James.
A Hero – Forever in Our Hearts
Jessica and Jonathan Young have been coping with unimaginable pain since their 9-month-old son Damien tragically passed away in April 2020. Their personal strength has been stretched to the limits as they continue to provide loving care and support to their seven children.
“The pain of losing a child is something that no parent should ever have to feel,” said Jessica. “However, we are fortunate to be surrounded by family and loved ones who are always here to love and support us. We are also blessed to have connected with the caring group at NJ Sharing Network and the staff at Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center.”
Jessica and Jonathan are grateful that they made the decision to donate Damien’s organs and tissue for transplant. Damien’s heart helped save the life of a 9-month-old girl and his liver saved a 1-year-old boy.
“It was very difficult to hear that Damien was not going to come back to us,” said Jessica. “Damien was special and had a universal blood type that could help save just about anyone who needed an organ transplant. That is when we decided Damien would become a hero as an organ donor.”
According to Joseph Roth, president and CEO of NJ Sharing Network, Melissa and Damien’s stories underscore how organ donation can help turn sorrow into hope as a terrible loss becomes a gift. “Our selfless donors give the precious gift of life to others. Our donor families exemplify resiliency and compassion. Our staff and healthcare professionals are always brave and caring. Together – these heroes remind us all that there is good in the world,” said Roth.
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