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Organ Donation in New Jersey Reached New All-High in 2022

NJ Sharing Network reports more lives saved than ever before thanks to 283 organ donors in New Jersey who gave the gift of life resulting in 670 life-saving organ transplants

Carolyn M. Welsh, the new President and CEO of NJ Sharing Network, the federally-designated nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery of donated organs and tissue in the state, announced the number of organ donors (283) and organs transplanted in a single year (670) reached all-time highs in 2022. These unprecedented totals mark significant increases over the previous records of 233 organ donors and 613 organs transplanted. This also marked the fourth consecutive year NJ Sharing Network has reported new records in the number of organ donors, underscoring the clear trend of increased support for organ donation in the Garden State.

“Thanks to the generosity of New Jersey organ donors and their families, more lives were saved last year than ever before – ensuring others now have more time to share special moments with their loved ones,” said Welsh, who began to serve in her new role as President and CEO on January 1, 2023, after holding several leadership positions during her 24-year tenure at NJ Sharing Network. “We are deeply grateful for the exceptional efforts of our team members and healthcare partners. They are amazing people who understand that what we do is much more than a job – it is a unified mission to save lives and give hope to those waiting for a second chance at life through the miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Together, we are unstoppable, motivated to take on all challenges, and focused on offering compassionate care and support to donor families during their most difficult times of grief.”

In 2022, the 670 organs transplanted included 350 kidneys (all-time high), 170 livers (all- time high), 71 hearts, 58 lungs, 20 pancreata and one intestine. In addition, 40,000 eye and tissue gifts enhanced the quality of life for those in need. Tissue donations include corneas, heart valves, skin grafts, bone grafts, saphenous veins, ligaments, and tendons. One organ donor can save eight lives, and one tissue donor can enhance the lives of over 75 people.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health facility locatedin New Brunswick, had 33 organ donors in 2022 resulting in 102 organs transplanted – both are new records for the most ever in a single year by any hospital in New Jersey. The RWJBarnabas Health network of hospitals had 68 organ donors in 2022 resulting in 195 organs transplanted. Cooper University Hospital and Jersey Shore University Medical Center also set records with 26 donors recovered at each hospital placing them tied for second in the most donors recovered at a single hospital in a year. NJ Sharing Network proudly partners with the 57 hospitals in its service area and is thankful for their continued support in saving and enhancing lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation.

According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 4,000 people in New Jersey are on the organ transplant waiting list. However, Welsh believes the generosity of those in the Garden State is providing hope for the future. Welsh is eager to lead NJ Sharing Network in its bold vision for the future to save and enhance more lives than ever before. This includes achieving a goal of reaching 300 organ donors and 700 transplants in a single year by 2024.

“Less than 1% of people that die in a hospital can be an organ donor. People’s lives depend on us,” said Welsh. “We have developed strategic plans for growth that includes adding talent, resources, and programs to facilitate the donor process, support donor families, and increase our robust multicultural outreach and education efforts.”

Continuing to Connect with NJ’s Diverse Communities

NJ Sharing Network’s compassionate team is making personal connections with more families than ever before within local hospitals to offer the opportunity for their loved ones to become organ donors. Family approaches in 2022 increased by 11% over 2021. These tireless efforts are providing more families of every race and ethnicity the opportunity for donation – a precious gift during a tragic time.

NJ Sharing Network team members and volunteers have also boosted education and outreach efforts in diverse communities throughout the state. According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 68% of the New Jersey residents waiting for a life-saving transplant are people of color. NJ Sharing Network earned the prestigious NJBIZ Healthcare Heroes Award in recognition of its #DonationNeedsDiversity awareness initiative, which is credited with building community trust and dispelling misinformation about donation and transplantation in urban, multicultural communities with the most residents waiting for transplant. The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey also honored NJ Sharing Network with a “Champion of Diversity” award.

To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.

Thanks to the generosity of New Jersey organ donors and their families, more lives were saved last year than ever before. The following are personal stories of a local organ and tissue donor hero and a transplant recipient:

STEPHANIE SMITH – Organ and Tissue Donor

On April 4, 2022, the untimely passing of Stephanie Smith, 24, of Jackson, NJ, shattered the hearts of her family and friends. The middle child of seven, Stephanie’s fun-loving spirit and energy always shined through. In addition to her warm personality, loved ones admired her many talents as a certified medical assistant, makeup artist and even an accomplished softball player.

“She was truly one of a kind and lived life to its fullest,” said Donna Smith, Stephanie’s mother. “She found joy in life’s precious moments together with family. Our family members would often call her ‘The Appetizer Queen’ because she loved going out to eat with everyone.”

While Donna and Wayne Smith continue to feel the loss of Stephanie each day, they find some comfort in knowing that a special part of her continues to live on as an organ donor. Stephanie’s donated heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys saved the lives of four women. Her cornea donation also restored sight for another woman.

“I am thankful that I had discussions with Stephanie about organ and tissue donation,” said Donna. “Looking back and now seeing the impact that she made on others, I am happy that we supported her wishes. I believe that organ and tissue donation is something that everyone should discuss with their family.”

Wayne is also grateful for the care and support the family received from the medical team at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the staff of NJ Sharing Network. Wayne recalls the moment when his family followed Stephanie’s wishes to be an organ and tissue donor.

“The hospital staff and the NJ Sharing Network team were phenomenal. No matter what we needed, they provided it,” said Wayne. “After Stephanie passed away, we agreed to move forward with donation and the hands of the clock in her room paused, rotated around, and stopped at that exact time of 5:50 p.m. We knew that was a sign from Stephanie that we were doing the right thing.”

LISA VECCHIONE – Heart Transplant Recipient

For many years, Lisa Vecchione of Springfield, NJ, suffered with shortness of breath and chest pain, but she ignored the signs that it could be a major health concern until she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in 2004. This serious heart condition became more urgent in the months and years that followed and was compounded by her acute arthritis and two hip replacements.

“I felt so limited in what I could do, and I had to be extra careful throughout the pandemic,” said Lisa. “My husband is fit and active, and I felt like my condition benched him for many years because we could not live life to its fullest.”

Lisa’s strong faith helped provide her strength as she waited for a life-saving heart transplant. “I love the Lord with all my heart, and I prayed for a miracle,” said Lisa.

On June 19, 2022, Lisa’s prayers were answered as she received ‘the call’ that a heart was available for transplant. The following day, her transplant was a success, and she was on the fast track to recovery.

“When I woke up the next day, I had this brand-new gift beating in my chest,” said Lisa. “I remember I could breathe easier and think clearer. I used a walker for one day doing laps around the hospital floor with my therapists and then I was good to go without one.”

With her health and strength restored, Lisa is now staying active and looking ahead to her future. She has also made it a priority to volunteer for NJ Sharing Network and shares her story with others to encourage more people to register as organ and tissue donors.

“This gift has given me back to my family and loved ones,” said Lisa. “I am forever grateful to my heart donor and their family.”

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Join us LIVE on February 13!

In celebration of National Donor Day, join us LIVE on Facebook and YouTube on February 13 at 6pm for inspiring stories from those touched by the miracle of organ and tissue donation. Post your questions in the comments section throughout the event to join the conversation! 

For details and more ways to celebrate National Donor Day, visit NJSharingNetwork.org/donor-day/

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Sam Prince and the NFL share the message of organ and tissue donation.

Click here to watch “Life of Sam”, the inspiring video produced by the NFL about New York Giants fan, heart transplant recipient and NJSN volunteer Sam Prince and his donation story.

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NJBIZ Recognizes Carolyn M. Welsh as a 2022 Best 50 Women in Business Honoree

On September 16, 2022, NJBIZ, New Jersey’s leading business journal, announced the honorees for its 2022 Best 50 Women in Business program, which recognizes professionals who have made a significant impact on New Jersey industries and the community at large. The year’s prestigious list includes Carolyn M. Welsh, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of NJ Sharing Network, the non-profit, federally designated organ procurement organization responsible for the recovery and placement of organs and tissue in the state.

A resident of Colts Neck, NJ, Welsh was recognized for her efforts in leading NJ Sharing Network’s 206 employees, local hospital and community partners, and hundreds of volunteers to consistently achieve record growth in lives saved and enhanced through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. During Welsh’s 23-year tenure at NJ Sharing Network, the number of life-saving transplants in the Garden State has quadrupled. In recent years, she has guided effective strategic plans, policies and procedures that resulted in all-time highs in the number of organ donors despite unprecedented restrictions due to the pandemic. NJ donor registrations also jumped 8.3% in 2021 ranking the state as 5th on the National Donate Life Registry.

“Every day, I am fortunate to work with our dedicated team of professionals, community volunteers and partners who are committed to saving lives and improving the health and wellbeing of our neighbors. Giving people a second chance at life through organ and tissue donation and transplantation is my purpose. I am honored to be recognized by NJBIZ alongside some of the most dynamic and inspirational leaders in our state,” said Welsh.

Since joining NJ Sharing Network in 1999 as a Hospital Services Manager, Welsh has continually advanced to take on new responsibilities. She currently oversees the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of NJ Sharing Network, including leading the organization’s clinical services, information technology, human resources, regulatory compliance, performance improvement, hospital and community outreach, and communications. In addition to her role at NJ Sharing Network, Welsh serves on the Board of Directors of Eversight and on the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Council of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO). She previously served on the United Network for Organ Sharing’s (UNOS) OPTN OPO Committee.

According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are over 100,000 Americans – nearly 4,000 of whom live in New Jersey – waiting for a life-saving transplant. One organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 others. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.

PHOTO CAPTION: Carolyn M. Welsh, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of NJ Sharing Network

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of NJ Sharing Network

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Organs Transplanted in New Jersey Reached a Record High of 92 in September 2022

As support for organ and tissue donation continues to grow, organ transplants are saving more lives than ever before in the Garden State.

NJ Sharing Network, the federally-designated nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery of donated organs and tissue in the state, announced that 92 organs were transplanted in September 2022 – the most ever in a single month in New Jersey. The 92 organs transplanted included 46 kidneys, 20 livers, 13 hearts, 10 lungs and 3 pancreases. New Jersey’s previous record for organs transplanted in a month was 82 – the new record is a 12% increase.

This life-saving transplant milestone underscores a clear trend of growing support for organ and tissue donation in the Garden State. Last year, the number of organ donors in New Jersey reached an all-time high for the third consecutive year. More than 2.7 million New Jerseyans are registered as organ and tissue donors, ranking New Jersey #4 in percentage of state population on the National Donate Life Registry.

“We are saving more lives than ever before through organ and tissue donation and transplantation thanks to the generosity of those in New Jersey. First and foremost, we thank and honor our donor heroes who generously gave the gift of life, as well as their supportive families. The miracle of donation and transplantation would not be possible without the dedicated support and expertise of our clinical staff and hospital partners,” said Joseph S. Roth, President and Chief Executive Officer, NJ Sharing Network.

During the past five years, NJ Sharing Network has increased its family support efforts within local hospitals as team members approached 60% more families to offer the opportunity for their loved ones to become organ donors. NJ Sharing Network team members and volunteers have also boosted education and outreach efforts in diverse communities throughout the state.

“Our dedicated staff is fortunate to be supported by a wide range of community volunteers and partners who are committed to help save lives and improve the health and wellbeing of our neighbors. Together, we offer compassionate care and support to donor families during their most difficult times of grief,” said Carolyn M. Welsh, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of NJ Sharing Network.

According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), 68% of the New Jersey residents waiting for a life-saving transplant are people of color. NJ Sharing Network earned the prestigious NJBIZ 2021 Healthcare Heroes Award in recognition of its #DonationNeedsDiversity awareness initiative, which is credited with helping to build community trust and dispelling misinformation about donation and transplantation in urban, multicultural communities with the most residents waiting for transplant. The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey also recently honored NJ Sharing Network’s President and CEO Joseph S. Roth as a “Champion of Diversity” for his accomplishments and for leading NJ Sharing Network’s #DonationNeedsDiversity awareness initiative.

According to UNOS, there are over 100,000 Americans – nearly 4,000 of whom live in New Jersey – waiting for a life-saving transplant. One organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 others.

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It’s official! The U.S. has reached a historic milestone of over 1 million organ transplants!

Thank you to all the generous organ donor heroes and their families here in New Jersey, along with our hospital partners, volunteers, supporters, advocates and NJSN staff members who helped make this possible. We made life-saving history together! 💚💙
In honor of this momentous occasion, let’s remember there is still more work to be done to ensure those on the waiting list are transplanted.

Please share the news and ask everyone you know to register as an organ and tissue donor today at NJSharingNetwork.org/Register.

Learn more about the #LivingItForward initiative at LivingItForward.org. #1MillionTransplants

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The 2023 Donate Life Rose Parade Float

We are proud to announce the four honorees from New Jersey who will be part of the 2023 Donate Life Rose Parade Float! Join us as we celebrate these families leading up to this iconic New Year’s Day tradition. The theme of next year’s float is Lifting Each Other Up, featuring a spectacular Chinese street dragon as the centerpiece of the float symbolizing great power, good luck and strength.

The 2023 honorees are:

– Hailey Palumbo, Organ and Tissue Donor and Floragraph Honoree | Sponsored by the Sharing Network Foundation
-Tyler Rodimer, Organ and Tissue Donor and Floragraph Honoree | Sponsored by Dignity Memorial
-Leena Sandhu, Kidney Transplant Recipient and Float Rider | Sponsored by the Sharing Network Foundation
– Joey Savage, Organ and Tissue Donor and Floragraph Honoree | Co-Sponsored by the Sharing Network Foundation and MTF Biologics

Stay tuned over the next few months as we share more information about each of the honorees and the Donate Life Float. 💙💚

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August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month

Throughout the month and year round, our #DonationNeedsDiversity initiative honors the generosity of multicultural donors and their families, while also underscoring the critical need for people from diverse communities to register as organ and tissue donors. Click here to learn more and get involved.

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Heart recipient Sam Prince featured on ESPN’s “My Wish” Watch it here!

ESPN’s award winning My Wish series returned for its 15th season featuring heart transplant recipient and NJ Sharing Network volunteer Sam Prince! In April, Sam had his wish granted by the Make-A-Wish-Foundation to announce the NJ Giants first round pick at the NFL draft and his exciting and inspiring appearance went viral!

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Leonard Petruska of Hamilton, NJ, Celebrates the 22-Year Anniversary of His Life-Saving Liver Transplant

Leonard Petruska, 82, is taking time to reflect on the gift of life and the miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation as he celebrates 22 years since his life-saving liver transplant. Over the years, Leonard has also made it a priority to support donation and transplantation and by sharing his story with others, Leonard has encouraged more people to register as organ and tissue donors.

The following was written by Leonard to detail his liver transplant journey and highlight life’s precious moments made possible thanks to the gift of life.

In 1998, my life was great. I was the Eastern Regional Sales Manager for Nash Engineering, and my wife, Arlene, was a vice president of a large advertising company. We were proud that our three children, Alayne, Lenore, and Beth had graduated college and were gainfully employed. We were preparing to enjoy the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

On the Thursday before the holiday weekend, while out doing errands, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and was bringing up blood. I left my car at the store, got a ride home and rested instead of going to the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter Beth spoke with my doctor who called me and ordered me to the hospital. It was soon discovered that I had a bleed in my liver and my pancreas failed. I was put into a drug induced coma. Thirteen days later, I woke up in the CCU and was very confused.

Several months later, I was told to get my affairs in order because I had only about 12 months to live. I desperately needed a liver transplant and was added to the transplant waiting list. I attended transplant support groups to help me cope with a wide range of emotions, including a feeling of guilt that another person would have to die for me to receive the gift of life.

During the Memorial Day weekend in 2000, Thomas Sozzi, a local business owner and amateur drag race car driver, was on his way home from parking his business truck when he was hit head-on by a school bus filled with school children and was airlifted to the trauma center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in critical condition. Thomas and his wife, Tracey, had a close friend who died awaiting a kidney transplant, so they were aware of the importance of donation. Tracey recalled Thomas saying if something ever happened to him, he would want his organs donated so others might live.

The following months were filled with recovery and rehabilitation. I was incredibly grateful for being given a second chance at life. Life took on a new meaning. I was more in love with my family and friends. Reading and music took on new importance. Everything about everything took on new dimensions and appreciation.

I felt compelled to write my donor family with the support of the NJ Sharing Network team. I remember that I wanted to make sure they received my letter just before Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day, Tracey called me and was happy to hear from me. We ended our conversation making plans for our families to meet the day after Christmas and we did – Arlene and I, our three daughters, and two grandchildren. We all remain in close contact and Thomas and his family will always be in our hearts and prayers.

A few years later, Tracey and I teamed up to do a volunteer presentation for NJ Sharing Network at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. She brought me to their trauma unit to do a little ‘show and tell’ for the staff so they could see me in person. Tracey showed them the miracle of organ donation and transplantation.

In all these years since my life-saving transplant, it is easy to forget my wait for this transplant until bedtime when I thank God and pray for Thomas and Tracey Sozzi, and their children Thomas, Nicole and Anthony.

Apart from general organ transplant protocol, I have led quite a normal life. I have seen my first daughter Alayne Morena raise Dan and Gabrielle as a single mom. I have seen Dan start a new company and marry Julie who is going to make me a great grandfather soon. Gabrielle became an NICU nurse and is in a relationship with Garrett. Another daughter Lenore prospered in large corporations spending several assignments in India. And to see my daughter Beth get married to Bob Pickell and raise Jack as well as twins, Cooper and Shane. And lastly, to spend more life with my love, my wife of 58 years, Arlene.

It was especially exciting for me to see Tracey get married to Michael Wilson and have a son, Michael. And every day, I remember that all these precious moments were made possible thanks to the gift of life.

(Left-to-Right) Arlene Petruska, Tracey Sozzi Wilson, and Leonard Petruska

Please register today as an organ and tissue donor. 💚💙