West Essex HS, NJ
Attending: Rowan University
Organ Donation Advocate
My childhood was not a normal one. My days were filled with doctor’s appointments, various therapies, and round-the-clock medications. When I was not in the hospital, I watched from the sidelines with jealousy as my older brother rode his bike, played ball, and went on playdates, while I was stuck at home. In fact, what kept me most occupied was becoming a Pez collector at 5 years old! I started out with a collection of 20 Pez, and it has since grown to over 2000. I spent countless hours researching my next rare find. Over time, I became known as the Prince of Pez.
Pez collecting was a perfect activity for me since I was too fragile to do anything physical. Walking up a flight of stairs seemed like climbing a mountain, and when I did, my face and lips turned blue. All I wanted was to have friends, go to school, attend a birthday party, and relish in the joys of just being a kid. I couldn’t because I was just too weak. This was because I was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and one working lung.
One magical night, when I was eight years old, my life changed forever with a simple phone call. “They have a heart for you!” my mom screamed as she put down the phone. After waiting for six months, I was finally going to have a heart transplant. I was in total disbelief. I thought, now I am going to be a real boy, just like Pinocchio. It was a bittersweet moment. I was happy to be getting a new heart, yet sad since I knew I was going to benefit from someone’s tragedy.
My life has certainly not been an easy one. It has been filled with struggles, but I am most grateful for it. them. One family made the selfless decision to donate their child’s organs so I could live. I received the greatest gift I will ever get, the gift of life. For that reason, I have dedicated my life to becoming an advocate for spreading organ donation awareness as a certified volunteer for the New Jersey Sharing Network, the organ and tissue procurement organization for the state of NJ. Over the past ten years, I have become a strong voice for the power of organ donation. I take every opportunity to share my story. I have addressed crowds anywhere from 10 to 800 people, been featured on radio, local and national television, moderated youth panel discussions, and brought organ donation programs to my school. My tireless fundraising efforts have resulted in raising over $100,000 for organ donation awareness. Most recently, I was the youth spokesperson for the Transplant Games of America. There is not a speaking engagement that I turn down. I urge everyone I speak with to have a conversation with their families about their feelings on organ donation.
After one of my talks, a woman approached me and told me how I inspired her, and she was going to become an organ donor. Unfortunately, she passed from Covid-19. I learned she was able to donate her organs. I knew then my advocacy efforts had paid off; I had saved someone’s life.
I was too young to fully understand how very sick I was and the sacrifices I had to make. I was lucky to receive the support of many organizations that help sick kids lead their best life possible. They helped me become more sensitive to others, especially those with special needs. When I was well enough, I became volunteer for the Friendship Circle of NJ, one of the organizations that helped me. I was proud that I was able to make someone feel as special and ordinary as they made me feel. My journey has allowed me to learn the true meaning of life, family, friends and giving back. I have the power to save lives and I plan on doing so for many years to come.