More than 50 people connected to the mission to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation gathered at Liberty Science Center Wednesday, december 3, for an emotional ceremony to honor a heart recipient and living kidney donor who will be part of the Donate Life Float at the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
Organ and tissue recipients as well as living kidney donors and families of deceased donors gathered for the ceremony to celebrate Reenie Harris, a 71-year-old altruistic kidney donor from Cedar Knolls, and Joe DiSanto, a 20-year-old heart recipient and Monmouth University student.
Joe, a Hillsborough resident who received a heart transplant at the age of 11, will be one of 30 organ recipients riding on the Donate Life Float. Reenie Harris will be among the 12 living donors who will walk alongside the float. Reenie is likely the oldest person in the United States to give one of her kidneys to someone she did not know, inspired by her daughter who also donated a kidney to a complete stranger. While in California for the parade, she plans to meet, for the first time, the California recipient of her altruistic kidney donation.
“This experience that has changed my life,” Reenie said. “I am humbled when I meet recipients with the courage to move forward with their lives. And I have no side effects from donating my kidney. I still go skydiving! There are no limitations whatsoever.”
Joe told the story of going into cardiac arrest at the age of 11 and being rushed to the hospital. He was stabilized and needed to wait months before he received a donated heart and a second chance at life in 2006.
“I am thankful every day for the gift my donor gave me,” Joe said. “I am a college student at Monmouth University. I have a girlfriend … I live a normal life that would not be possible without my donor. I want to thank my donor and every donor in the nation for their gifts.”
Those gathered for the event also viewed an interactive Liberty Science Center exhibit funded by the NJ Sharing Network Foundation that educates visitors about organ and tissue donation.
“We value our partnership with Liberty Science Center and this educational exhibit is just one of the ways we are working together to save more lives,” said Joe Roth, President and CEO of NJ Sharing Network.
Portions of the “Live From …” Liberty Science Center video series, showing actual kidney and heart transplants from New Jersey operating rooms, were shown during the event.
Stuart R. Geffner, MD, Kidney Transplant Surgeon at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, said the “Live From” program has educated thousands of students about organ and tissue donation since the program’s inception eleven years ago.
“One of the highlights of my career has been my involvement with the Liberty Science Center and this program. It is so interactive. Students at the science center ask me questions while I am in the operating room,” Dr Geffner explained. “Through the years, thousands of students have seen the miracle of organ donation.”
Dr. Geffner, who performed the operation to remove Reenie Harris’ kidney, also extolled the generosity of altruistic donors.
“They are several levels above the rest of us,” he said.
Margarita Camacho, MD, Surgical Director of Cardiac Transplantation and Assist Devices at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, showed video of a new pumping device that can extend the life of a donated heart from four to five hours to possibly as long as 10 or 12 hours. “This is the most important advance in heart transplant in many years,” she said while viewers saw video of a donated heart in the device.
The ceremony ended with a rose dedication from the NJ Sharing Network Foundation Board of Trustees with messages that will be placed on the Donate Life Float at the Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
The Donate Life Float honors organ and tissue donors and their families and spreads the life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people on the parade route and millions more on television. In addition to Reenie and Joe’s participation in the parade, four organ and tissue donors who are part of the NJ Sharing Network family will be honored and remembered for their life-saving gifts with “floragraphs” displayed on the float. Their families also will attend the parade because of generous sponsorships from Dignity Memorial®; Bridge to Life Ltd., One Legacy and the NJ Sharing Network Foundation.
At Liberty Science Center, Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation, thanked Joe and Reenie for their support of the mission to save lives.
“You continue to share your stories of hope and transformation and giving,” she said. “You do so much for the mission to save lives and you inspire others to make the choice, when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, to say yes to donation. And you inspire families at that most tragic time in their lives to make the decision to give the gift of life.”
The NJ Sharing Network Foundation is committed to increasing the number of lives saved through education, research, donor family support and public awareness about the life-saving benefits of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Every contribution to the NJ Sharing Network Foundation empowers the foundation’s efforts to provide more people with the greatest gift of all: life.