Organ Donation in New Jersey Reached a New Record High in 2021
Generosity and Support for Organ Donation Continues to Grow in the Garden State Thanks to 233 Organ Donors Who Gave the Gift of Life
NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit, federally-designated organization responsible for the recovery of organ and tissue donation in the state, announced the number of organ donors in a single year reached an all-time high as 233 generous individuals in New Jersey gave the gift of life in 2021. Last year’s record underscores the trend of growing support for organ donation in the Garden State.
“We owe this achievement, first and foremost, to our donor heroes who generously gave the gift of life, as well as their supportive families,” said Joseph S. Roth, President and Chief Executive Officer, NJ Sharing Network. “We are also deeply grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our team members and healthcare partners who work around the clock to help power our life-saving mission. The miracle of organ donation and transplantation would not be possible without the dedicated support and expertise of our clinical staff and hospital partners.”
In 2021, 599 organs were transplanted thanks to donors in New Jersey, including 322 kidneys, 151 livers (new record for liver recoveries), 57 hearts, 49 lungs and 20 pancreases. In addition, 42,112 eye and tissue donations healed and 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. It is easy for New Jerseyans to register using any of the following options:
• Online at www.NJSharingNetwork.org
• Through the iPhone Health App
• In person at any local Motor Vehicle Agency
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 4,000 people in New Jersey are on the organ transplant waiting list, and one person dies every three days waiting for a transplant. However, the generosity of those in the Garden State is providing hope for the future, according to Carolyn M. Welsh, Chief Operating Officer, NJ Sharing Network.
“Strong support for donation in New Jersey’s diverse communities has been achieved thanks to education and outreach efforts as well as expanded ways to register as an organ and tissue donor,” said Welsh. “Our dedicated team of professionals 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.”
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. Team members and volunteers have also boosted education and outreach efforts in diverse communities throughout the state.
According to UNOS, nearly 67% 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 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 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. #DonationNeedsDiversity played a critical role in generating an 8.3% increase in New Jersey organ and tissue donor registrations in 2021.
This year’s organ donation milestone was achieved despite continued challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. While transplant centers make the final determination on whether or not organs are suitable for transplant on a case-by-case basis, many deceased patients with active COVID-19 virus were ruled out for organ or tissue donation in 2020 and 2021.
The following are the inspiring stories of two of New Jersey’s 233 organ donor heroes in 2021:
A LEGACY OF CARING FOR OTHERS
For more than two decades, Dilipkumar (Dilip) S. Patel, 60, was a popular, well-recognized face around town as the owner and operator of Old Bridge Bar and Liquors. He made it a priority to greet every customer with a welcoming smile despite working 16-hour days, every day of the week. Everyone enjoyed Dilip’s kind and friendly personality as they shared countless stories and chatted about the latest news and events.
At their home in Sayreville, NJ, Dilip’s family loved him dearly for his selfless nature in doing everything he could to provide for them. He had a very simple focus in life — ensuring that his wife Hemisha and their three children, Riddhi, Hiral and Vrajesh, were always happy, healthy and safe.
“My father was always the first one to be ready and super excited for family gatherings and parties,” said Riddhi. “That’s what made him so loved and great. He wasn’t into materialistic things, and he never complained. He was just happy to exist each day being with others.”
Early in 2021, Dilip finally decided to sell his store to reduce stress and spend more time at home. His wife and children, now successful adults, were all proud that their father would be able to relax a bit and have more free time to focus on what matters most. He kept his life balanced by continuing to work part-time at the store, and he planned to spend some time working at a local senior center. Despite having diabetes and high cholesterol, Dilip stayed active by swimming three times per week and made sure to regularly check his sugar.
“His partial retirement was perfect timing for him and for all of us,” said Riddhi. “I had recently moved back home along with my fiancé because the condo we purchased was not yet ready. I knew this would be a special time because it would be the last time living all together before starting our lives in our new home.”
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in September 2021 when Dilip suffered a massive heart attack. He passed away surrounded by his loving family. While there are no words to describe the family’s feeling of sadness and loss, Riddhi believes that her father’s personal decision to be an organ and tissue donor gave them some comfort during their toughest moments.
“My dad was a big advocate for organ donation, and we always knew that it is what he wanted to do after he passed,” said Riddhi. “He had just updated his license a few months prior, and he reminded my mom and others to make sure that they say yes to be an organ and tissue donor.”
Dilip’s donated pancreas will be used for diabetes research that could have a direct hand in helping those who suffer from the disease. His tissue donations will also enhance the lives of many others.
“I know that my father would be very happy that he is continuing to help others — especially through research,” said Riddhi. “In our Hindu faith, we cremate our bodies, but my father deeply supported the principle of helping and saving the lives of others through organ and tissue donation.”
Many friends, neighbors and those who knew Dilip continue to send the Patel family positive thoughts and prayers of support. His selfless legacy will always be remembered.
FOR THE LOVE OF LIFE AND MUSIC
Adam Gerver, 32, was truly one of a kind. He possessed seemingly limitless talent and always found joy in helping others.
“Adam dreamed of saving lives – either by becoming a surgeon or through music,” said Howard (Howie) Gerver, Adam’s father. “As a little boy, he wanted to invent a musical chip to put under a person’s skin to help them heal and feel better. While he was never able to do that, he did ultimately save lives by being an organ donor.”
At times, Adam’s many impressive achievements left others in awe. He was a talented musician who mastered five different instruments and was honored with an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). He also taught himself how to play chess and quickly earned a 95th percentile national ranking after defeating opponents with decades of competitive experience. He was a former class president at Ramapo High School, an exceptional student who earned a Master’s Degree in Finance from Case Western Reserve University, and a skilled tennis player and golfer. He also took great pride in his game-winning home run in 8th grade – which happened to be his only home run in youth baseball.
The world lost a truly gifted young man when Adam tragically passed away in April 2021. While it seemed like Adam could simply do it all, his family and friends will best remember him for his kindness and compassion for others.
“He was caring and sensitive, and he always seemed to have insights and bold ideas,” said Julie Lefkowitz, Adam’s mother. “He enjoyed going out of his way for others – especially those who were most in need.”
Julie, Howie, Adam’s stepmom Judy and Adam’s sisters Jill and Jodi were proud of his desire to give the gift of life to others, and his lifesaving donations included kidneys, liver, heart and lungs.
“When he checked the box to be an organ donor, I know that he meant it with all of his heart,” said Julie. “He told me about it when he got home that day from getting his license. It was clearly something that he thought about and wanted to do to help others. That’s just the kind of person he was.”
During his final days, the NJ Sharing Network team worked to locate and match Adam’s gifts with recipients. “We are thankful for the amazing teams at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, NJ Sharing Network and all of our area hospitals for the magical work that they do every day,” said Howie. “They made sure that Adam did not die in vain. They made an extremely difficult process much easier for me and my family. They were supportive, informative, friendly and empathetic. Adam would have been very happy to know that he saved lives.”
As for Adam’s home run tally, longtime family friend Rabbi Chanoch Kaplan of Chabad Northwest Bergen County raises some debate that Adam may have actually had two in his lifetime. “While Adam was alive, he thought he only had one winning home run, but the truth is his entire life was a home run which culminated in the final act of giving life to others,” said Rabbi Kaplan.
Dilip, Adam and all of our donor heroes remind us that even the simplest act of kindness can make a world of difference to those around us. You can make a difference today by registering as an organ and tissue donor at www.NJSharingNetwork.org.