By: Richard L. Smith
As Thanksgiving approaches, Laurie Williams of Long Branch has more than just gratitude on her mind; she's celebrating the remarkable gift of life she received a decade ago through a life-saving heart transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI).
Today, she proudly shares her experience as a volunteer with NJ Sharing Network, aiming to inspire others to register as organ and tissue donors, potentially saving and enhancing countless lives.
Laurie, a loving mother of eight with 17 grandchildren, reflects on the profound role that family and faith played in guiding her through the highs and lows of her health journey.
"I am overwhelmed by the many blessings that I have received. To honor my heart donor, I am trying to be the best person that I can be and live this life to its fullest without fear or limitations," Laurie expressed. "Family is what guided me through. The medical staff worked miracles, and God above directs us all."
Laurie's journey into the world of organ and tissue donation began back in 2003 when she contemplated donating part of her liver to save her brother-in-law's life. Little did she know that she was about to face her own serious heart health issues.
A year later, Laurie experienced several episodes of losing consciousness after feeling chest pain and shortness of breath. "I simply did not worry about it (health issues) at the time. My husband Dave and I were always busy with work, our kids' activities, and sports, so we just kept on going," Laurie recalled.
Regrettably, Laurie's condition deteriorated over time, leading to a diagnosis of ventricular tachycardia, and she had to receive a pacemaker defibrillator.
Laurie experienced a brief respite from her health challenges after embarking on a spiritually uplifting vacation to Lourdes in France with her husband Dave, but in 2012, her health took a critical turn, culminating in congestive heart failure.
Despite some initial reservations, Laurie used a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge to transplant for ten months. She maintained a positive outlook for the sake of her family, even incorporating the LVAD into her daily life by placing it inside a vibrantly designed backpack.
Then, in November 2012, Laurie received a life-changing call from NBI, informing her that a heart was available for her transplant. "I remember a powerful feeling of peace came over me right at that moment," Laurie recalled.
"But we all moved quickly to get prepared as we rushed to get to the hospital."
Following a grueling seven-hour transplant surgery, Laurie opened her eyes to see her beloved family gathered around her hospital bed.
"I could not speak or move, but my mind and spirit were completely there. Dave told me, 'don't stop fighting.' Thanks to God and their words of encouragement at my bedside, I rebounded, and my heart grew stronger. Just 24 hours later, my breathing tube was removed, and I could begin my path to recovery as I made it home just in time for Thanksgiving," Laurie shared.
Laurie also carries immense gratitude for her heart donor, a 39-year-old professional tree-trimmer who tragically lost his life in a work accident. As she celebrates her remarkable 10-year transplant anniversary, Laurie emphasizes the vital role played by NJ Sharing Network in her life-changing journey.
"NJ Sharing Network was always there to support me and my donor family. I will never forget that, and I will do everything I can to support their life-saving mission and encourage people to register as organ and tissue donors to help save more lives."
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are over 100,000 Americans, nearly 4,000 of whom reside in New Jersey, waiting for a life-saving transplant. However, the generosity of individuals in the Garden State is offering hope for a brighter future.
In 2022, the number of organ donors and organs transplanted in a single year reached all-time highs, marking the fourth consecutive year of new records for NJ Sharing Network. This underscores a clear trend of increased support for organ donation and the potential for saving more lives.
To learn more about Laurie's story, get involved, and join the National Donate Life Registry as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org. Laurie's journey is a powerful reminder of the life-changing impact of organ and tissue donation and the hope it brings to countless individuals and families nationwide.