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What NJ Sharing Network and our Mission Mean to Me  

p_desarnoWhen I was 17 years old, while playing baseball in my junior year of high school, I noticed I was having difficulty seeing the ball. It became quickly apparent that I was experiencing a serious decline in my vision, and after many trips to various eye specialists in New Jersey and New York, I was diagnosed with a condition called Keratoconus. Over time, this condition has the effect of damaging the cornea (which is the outer window of the eye), causing it to become distorted and cone-shaped. Left untreated, it would have continued to degrade my vision, making it difficult to lead a normal life. With the help of specially crafted contact lenses, my vision was temporarily restored while I attended college and earned my undergraduate accounting degree. Soon after, however, while working long hours in public accounting, the contact lenses were no longer effective. The progression of the condition had caused severe curvature and a significant level of distortion to my cornea. It was recommended by my doctor that I have cornea transplants in both eyes.

At the age of 24, I received cornea transplants that restored my vision and forever changed my life. My first transplant was in my left eye, and the gift of that donor cornea came to me with the assistance of the Lions Eye Bank of Texas. The gift of my second donor cornea (for my right eye) was procured with the assistance of the Lions Eye Bank of NJ and NJ Sharing Network, whose mission is to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation.  

In 2014, my 13 year-old daughter, Paige, and I became certified volunteers of NJ Sharing Network. We did so following a knee surgery in which she received donor cartilage to repair an injury. From the moment we entered the NJ Sharing Network headquarters for volunteer training, we knew that the experience would be something special. The level of respect and care taken to honor donors and their families and loved ones was truly special. The stories told that evening by donor families, recipients and those individuals there simply because they wanted to support the mission were both moving and heartwarming. To say the feelings in the room that night were so powerful that they reaffirmed one's faith in humanity would not be an exaggeration. Paige and I left the training as grateful recipients who felt compelled to help spread the important lifesaving and enhancing message of organ and tissue donation.  

As a certified volunteer, Paige immediately took it upon herself to organize a donor registration drive in our home town of New Providence. Together, with the assistance of NJ Sharing Network, we presented our stories to the New Providence Lions Club, where Paige was able to engage a number of Lions to volunteer to assist her in the upcoming drive that she was planning. The following week, information tables were set up in front of our local supermarket and diner and the donor registration drive was a success. Since then, Paige and I have been honored to represent NJ Sharing Network as volunteers at a number of events, including street fairs and at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have always been mindful and appreciative of the wonderful gifts that I have received. I believe it is heroic that someone could be so generous and selfless. Equally noble is that a donor family could make such a compassionate and giving decision at such a difficult time. These acts, in my mind, are among the most beautiful things that one human can do for another in this world.  

I will forever be grateful for the vision that my donors have provided me and the organizations that played a role in helping to procure my corneas. The gift of sight that I have been given has allowed me to see the details of my wife’s face and watch my three children grow. 

Professionally, after a 20+ year career in public and corporate accounting, I now work as the Controller of NJ Sharing Network. Yes, the same organization that helped to procure my right cornea. All these years later, fate has brought me full circle.  

While the impact of restoring my vision is a gift well beyond words, there is another gift that this experience has provided me. When I received my corneas, I was also given the gift of perspective; the perspective to know that there are wonderful people in this world. While I have unfortunately not been able to make contact with the loved ones of my two donors, I know that those donors and their families were willing to help a fellow human being they did not even know. 

I am very proud to work for NJ Sharing Network and be able to do my part in support of our important mission. If you too would like to make a difference, please consider becoming a volunteer at NJ Sharing Network and registering to be an organ & tissue donor.    

Sincerely,

Peter C. DeSarno, CPA, MBA
Controller, NJ Sharing Network & grateful double cornea recipient