Op-Ed: Fort Lee Youth Emphasizes Importance of Organ Donation
Fort Lee's own Johnny Damato continues to struggle with Corrected Transposition of the Great Vessels, a congenital disease he was born with. But that's not stopping him from a crusade to increase the number of organ donors.
Last week, Patch reported that group of community members, family and friends are banding together to help a Fort Lee family, whose 15-year-old son is in need of a heart transplant, through some difficult times, and in the process, to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation. This week, 15-year-old Johnny Damato of Fort Lee took it upon himself to submit the following letter to the editor:
I am writing this letter to say thanks to all the people in the community for being there for my family and me over this past year. This year has made me realize that even though I have this horrible heart disease, I am very lucky to have such a great family, friends, and to live in Fort Lee. While I have spent a lot of days in the hospital or at home due to my heart disease, I have been very lucky to have my family and friends with me every day. I do not know how to explain or let people know how much their support means to me. From my grown-up friends to my school friends, each one has stuck by me.
Mark Sokolich is and will always be like a father to me. I said it in a letter I wrote last year that he is a man that has been there for me every day of this horrible and scary time in my life. Even though he is the Mayor and has his own business, he finds time for me every day. He calls, texts and emails me just to check in to make sure I am ok. After a long day of working at his law office and meetings at night for the town, he will call me and take me out for a burger. It could be ten o’clock at night, and he is exhausted, but that doesn’t matter to him. What matters to him is me. I am important to him. Mark knows that sometimes I feel like my life is passing me by, and I feel like I will never be able to catch up again or get the time I lost this past year back again, but he never lets me give up. He encourages me to stay strong and he sticks by me. It may not sound like much to someone else, but it made me feel not so scared and alone at times. Denise, his wife, spends hours texting me every time I am in the hospital. I know she is doing it to keep my mind busy so that I do not get too scared or frustrated. I call her my second mom because she takes care of me like my mom. Devin, their son, has been my best friend for the past 12 years. We have been through a lot together, but he has always been my best friend. He is always by my side, trying to protect and support me, hoping that soon I will get a new heart and I will get my life back.
I have so many really close friends like Daniel P, Daniel C, Paul and Mona. They come see me all the time. I spend a lot of my nights in the home of my friend Mona, her parents, Regina and Phil, have made me part of there family. I don’t think it is because I am sick; I think it is because they are just really nice and good people. I am happy they have opened their home to me. I love both of them. A family friend, Holly, helps my mom with my sister all the time. This year has been especially hard on my sister, and without the help of Holly, it would have been even harder. Without my family and friends, I don’t think I would have been able to get through this time in my life. My friends have looked past my limitations and continue to make me a part of their everyday life. They give up doing the normal activities that kids do just so that I am not alone. I am lucky to have such good and supportive friends.
The community right now is coming together to show support for my family and me and to help raise the awareness for the need for more organ donors. Julie Liapes is helping put together something that will make more people aware of this great cause. It is amazing that Julie is doing this for me and all the other kids who desperately need a new organ to live. I am lucky that Julie has made me part of her life and is giving so much of her time to help with this. Right now, there are about 114,578 adults and children that are candidates for the waiting list for a new organ. Of those, 73,192 are actively waiting to receive a new organ. They say that only about 30 percent of the population are registered organ donors. I know all of this information because while I am waiting for a new heart, I do a lot of reading.
When I am healthy, I plan to become a big part of the Organ Donation Awareness program and hope that the members of the Fort Lee community will join me. If more people were aware of the need for organ donors and knew how many lives just one donor could save, I know more people would become donors.
One donor can:
- Donate kidneys to free two people from the dialysis treatments needed to sustain life.
- Save the lives of patients awaiting heart, liver, lung or pancreas transplants.
- Give sight to two people through the donation of corneas.
- Donate bone to help repair injured joints or to help save an arm or leg threatened by cancer or other illness.
- Help burn victims heal more quickly through donation of skin, and provide healthy heart valves for someone whose life is threatened by malfunctioning or diseased valves.
One organ donor can give 50 people a second chance at having a normal life again. I know it may not make a difference for me, but I am hoping it will make a difference for all the other families waiting. I do not want any family to go through what my family and friends have been through.
For more information or to dontate, visit the website, Hope for Johnny's Heart.