Jim Fiola and his wife, Kim, have enjoyed living in Branchville for more than 30 years. They raised two daughters and have watched their five grandchildren all grow up. Their many neighbors recognize Jim and Kim for their healthy and active lifestyles.
However, most people who meet Jim would never imagine that he recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of his life-saving liver transplant.
“I am living life to its fullest thanks to the selflessness and generosity of someone who registered as an organ donor and gave the gift of life to others,” said Jim, who is now retired after working for nearly 50 years as a professional woodworker and craftsman.
“That’s why I am proud to volunteer with NJ Sharing Network to educate others about the power of organ and tissue donation and transplantation.”
Surrounded by friends and relatives, the happy couple recently celebrated Jim’s 20th-anniversary transplant milestone with a gratitude ceremony at their home on Kittatinny Lake.
This special occasion gave Jim a chance to reflect on his transplant journey after being diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1998.
“After I was diagnosed, my symptoms continued to get worse, and my health was in a downward spiral,” said Jim.
“I could not go to work, and I had trouble getting out of bed as multiple systems were failing inside of my body. I believe that I only had about 30 to 60 days left before I would have been too sick even to receive a transplant.”
Fortunately, Jim received “the call” from University Hospital in Newark that a liver was available for his transplant.
“I remember the moment I answered the phone I was totally surprised,” said Jim. “I grabbed my bag that we always had ready, and Kim rushed back home. Our wonderful neighbors and friends promised to take care of our pets while we were gone.”
Jim’s felt a strong sense of positive energy during their car ride to the hospital. “I remember hoping that I would be well enough to attend the Ann Arbor Art Fair that was just about four months away,” said Jim.
On March 1, 2001, Jim’s liver transplant surgery was a success, thanks to his organ donor and the medical team at University Hospital.
While Jim was not quite ready to be around crowds to attend the 2001 Ann Arbor Art Fair, he made it there the following year.
Today, Jim, 73, continues to show boundless energy volunteering for NJ Sharing Network, serving as President of Sussex County Food Co-Op, Inc., exercising daily and working on beautification projects, including his gardens, walkways, sculptures and fencing.
He also ensures that he always takes the stairs for medical visits and his annual transplant check-ups at University Hospital.
“My doctors tell me to ‘just keep doing whatever you’re doing,’” said Jim. “My transplant journey seems like it began so long ago, but I am now reflecting on it and feeling thankful beyond words.
I got to see my grandchildren grow up – from running and chasing them as little kids to seeing them all go to college. All of those things would not have happened if it wasn’t for my organ donor. Without organ donors, people like me would not be around to celebrate life.”
Alyssa D’Addio, Director, Hospital and Community Services, NJ Sharing Network, is thankful for Jim’s ongoing commitment to NJ Sharing Network’s life-saving mission.
“It’s heartwarming to see Jim living life to its fullest and honoring the gift of life,” said D’Addio. “By volunteering and sharing his transplant story, Jim is encouraging everyone around him to give hope to others by registering as an organ and tissue donor.”
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are currently waiting for a life-saving transplant, and 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 www.NJSharingNetwork.org.