Frank Piccininni of Fair Lawn recently ran his own 'homemade' 26.2-mile marathon in Bergen County to raise awareness and funds to support the Sharing Network Foundation and the Hearts for Emma Partner Fund.
Family and friends of the Piccininni family came together to raise more than $4,600 in honor of Frank's son Christopher Piccininni's 20-year heart transplant anniversary.
"Christopher was given a second chance at life when he received a heart transplant in December 2001 when he was just 6-months old. Without this gift, Christopher would not be with us today," Frank said.
"His life is a daily reminder of the power of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. We feel extremely blessed and are committed to raising awareness about the importance of registering as organ and tissue donors to help save lives."
During Frank's homemade "Running for Christopher" marathon, he trekked through neighborhoods and paths in Fair Lawn, Rochelle Park and Ridgewood before ending his route in Dunkerhook Park in Paramus.
Although Frank has completed at least nine official marathons, he wanted this one to be extra special in honor of Christopher's transplant anniversary.
After four hours, 20 minutes, 6 seconds, Frank was greeted at the finish line by his wife Jacky, sons Christopher and Ryan, and many friends and loved ones.
"When I was thinking about doing this, I didn't want to travel and, because he is immunocompromised, I wanted to keep Christopher safe," Frank said.
"I am used to running alone, so it was inspiring to see my family and friends at the start, finish and throughout the route."
Christopher, now 20, was just nine weeks old when he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that enlarged his heart, making it unable to pump enough blood.
His only hope for survival was a heart transplant. After spending four months at Mount Sinai Medical Center's Pediatric ICU in Manhattan, thanks to his donor, he underwent a successful heart transplant, giving him a second chance at life.
Christopher continues to live a healthy and active lifestyle as a student at NJIT studying biomedical engineering.
He graduated from Fair Lawn High School, where he competed as a varsity swimmer all four years.
"I am so proud of my dad for running to raise money for the Sharing Network Foundation and the Hearts for Emma Partner Fund," Christopher said.
"After being given 20 years of life that I wouldn't have gotten without a transplant, the only thing we can do in return is to help raise funds and advocate for organ and tissue donation."
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are waiting for a life-saving transplant. One person in New Jersey dies every three days waiting for a transplant.
Just one organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 people.
To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit NJSharingNetwork.org.
To make a contribution to support "Running for Christopher," visit www.SharingNetworkFoundation.org/Running-for-Christopher.