‘They called my parents and said, your daughter’s dying, and you have to come say goodbye now.’
“My journey with transplantation began when I was 13 years old. I made the first girls lacrosse team in Hicksville, and I was a competitive baton twirler, but I started to have these really severe stomach pains. I was going to different doctors, and nobody could find anything physically wrong with me.
“One day I went to the ER, and they told my parents the worst-case scenario was that my ovaries were twisted, which was very hard to hear as a woman because they said later on in life, I couldn’t have children. They said they wanted to do something called exploratory surgery in my abdominal region because I presented with stomach pains. When I went in to do the surgery, I went into cardiac arrest on the table, and they found out that my heart was so enlarged that I was in heart failure. They had actually sent my parents home, but they called them and said, your daughter’s dying, and you have to come say goodbye now.
“They brought my younger brother, my uncle and a family friend who was a priest, who gave me my last rites. There was one doctor there, thank goodness, who said, ‘If I could stabilize her enough, we’re going take her to a hospital from Long Island to Columbia Presbyterian in the city. She’s going to need a heart transplant.’ Everything happened so fast. I woke up to all these different doctors. They stuck something called a Broviac tube in my chest, which is a permanent IV, because I needed medication 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I ended up contracting something called cardiomyopathy, which in the transplant world is a very common thing. You get a virus, and it destroys your heart, and they can’t really pinpoint exactly where it comes from.
“Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, while I waited for a transplant in the hospital. On July 6, 1996, my life was saved by my donor angel, Matthew. About two days prior, they had added different medications, and they told my family to get ready to say goodbye again because I was so sick. The holiday time is sadly a very big time for organ donation because bad things happen. Through tragedy, though, comes life. This 13-year-old boy saved my life because his mother made that decision to donate his organs.”
I got to meet my donor’s mom, and the first thing she did was place her head against my chest and say, “That’s my boy.”
“After the transplant, things went back to semi-normal. I had my transplant July 6, and then by September I was back in eighth grade. I went back to being a competitive baton twirler, but it’s a very fine line. You live in healthy/sick world because you could be really good one day and then the next day you’re not. Still to this day, I don’t have hair because it was one of my side effects. I would have a rejection episode, and I’d be hospitalized a little bit, and then you go back to normal.
“I graduated high school in 2001. I ended up going to Nassau Community College and then Molloy College, where I got my bachelor’s in social work. I’ve been a part of various organizations since I was young. Long Island TRIO, Hearts for Russ, and the United Network of Organ Sharing, as well as the New York Blood Center, because I receive blood transfusions still to this day. I got trained as a women’s heart ambassador at the Mayo Clinic. I just won a Bounce Back Give Back Award with the Chris Klug Foundation Woman of Distinction Award.
“In 2015 on Feb. 14, which is National Donor Day, I got to meet my donor’s mom, and the first thing she did was place her head against my chest and say, ‘That’s my boy.’ And that truly is the power of organ donation. She didn’t even ask me, ‘Did I go to school; did I do anything?’ She just said, ‘How am I feeling? Am I having fun in life?’ She just wanted to see if I was OK. And things change. I had a plan at 13: I wanted to get married, have kids, do all these things. They told my parents after my transplant that I might not make it to my 18th birthday, my 25th birthday, my 30th, but next year I’ll be 40. So that’s an accomplishment to me in itself. I always tell people, if you would say yes to receiving a transplant and you’re not a registered organ donor, then maybe you should think about becoming one. Because if you’re willing to receive, you should be willing to give yourself.”
Interviewed by Hannah Fusaro