By: Richard L. Smith
“I struggled every day for five years while I was on dialysis,” said Leena. “While waiting for a transplant miracle, I mentally felt hopeful, but physically, I was very fatigued all of the time.” -Harleen (Leena) Sandhu
NJ Sharing Network recently honored kidney transplant recipient Harleen (Leena) Sandhu of East Windsor, New Jersey, as she gets set to participate in the 2023 Donate Life Rose Parade float during the 2023 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, on January 2, 2023.
According to officials at NJ Sharing Network, Leena will ride on the float, the world's most visible campaign to inspire people to save and enhance lives with the powerful message of organ and tissue donation.
The Sharing Network Foundation is the proud sponsor of Leena’s trip to the 2023 Rose Parade.
NJ Sharing Network officials said Leena grew up in Central New Jersey after immigrating from India with her parents when she was a year old.
At age 16, NJ Sharing Network officials said while a sophomore at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, she was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s healthy tissue.
During her time in college at Rutgers University, Leena’s condition worsened.
Ultimately, her kidneys failed, and she started dialysis.
Leena’s mother, Daljeet Sandhu, helped make that miracle come true. Thankfully, Daljeet was able to be a living kidney donor. Stuart R. Geffner, MD, and the medical team at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center performed the successful transplant surgery in September 1997.
“My mother’s selfless gift gave me a second chance at life,” said Leena. “I am grateful beyond words because it allowed me to live a normal life - something many people take for granted.”
For the next 18 years, Leena’s health and energy were fully restored thanks to her mother’s kidney. At 27, she was excited to start her first job post-college at the American Red Cross and then settled into a career in Medical Device Product Management.
As an avid traveler, NJ Sharing Network officials said she enjoyed the freedom to explore countries across the world without the restrictions of a dialysis machine.
Unfortunately, in 2015, the transplanted kidney failed, and Leena was, once again, placed on dialysis.
Four months later, Leena was matched to a deceased organ donor and underwent a second successful transplant, once again performed by Dr. Geffner and the Cooperman Barnabas medical team.
Organ donation through a living and deceased donor has given Leena a second chance at life twice. Leena has now trekked to 30 countries and visited 41 states, enjoys gardening, photography, and the outdoors. She also got married in 2018.
NJ Sharing Network official said during all her adventures and experiences, Leena is forever mindful of the selfless decisions made by her mother and her organ donor.
Leena volunteers with NJ Sharing Network and is excited to be part of the 2023 Rose Parade.
“The biggest gift you can give someone is the opportunity to lead a healthy life,” said Leena. “Organ donors are truly heroes in every way.”
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are over 100,000 Americans – nearly 4,000 of whom live in New Jersey – waiting for a life-saving transplant.
One organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 others. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.