Kevin P. Aspell, 67, of Kendall Park, may have recently retired from his successful professional career, but he continues to actively serve as a dedicated volunteer to support his community and those most in need.
He is currently a Board Member of Community Access Unlimited in Elizabeth and a volunteer for NJ Sharing Network.
He also lives life to its fullest by hiking, golfing and being an avid sports fan. He can often be seen feverishly rooting for the Princeton soccer team.
But many people who know Kevin find it hard to believe that he struggled with serious health issues for much of his life.
From the time he was 8-years-old, Kevin was an insulin-dependent diabetic. He never allowed the disease to get in the way of an independent, fun-loving childhood.
He played varsity soccer in high school and college and was a huge sports fan. He fought hard over the years to ensure that his health complications did not get in the way of his enjoyment of life with his wife, Marisa, and their sons, Ryan and Evan.
"I used to do peritoneal dialysis so that no one at work needed to know, and I could still travel for business," said Kevin. "But over time, I knew that I needed a kidney transplant because I just felt worse as each day passed."
Kevin remembers feeling a strong sense of frustration while on the waiting list for a transplant.
"Needing a transplant puts you in a position where, literally, your life depends on someone else," Kevin said.
"That was one of the most difficult challenges for me. I always believed that I could deal with anything thrown at me. I built a plan and dealt with the adversity. But it is hard to take charge when your success depends entirely on an organ donated from someone else."
On three occasions, Kevin went to Saint Barnabas Medical Center to prepare for a transplant, but the kidneys were not a match. At that point, Marisa stepped up to offer one of her kidneys as a living donor.
"The scariest part for me was when they said, 'OK, we'll test you,' because if I'm not a match, then what? Now what do we do?" Marisa said. "It was wonderful when they told us that we were a match and we could move forward."
Kevin's successful kidney transplant nearly 22 years ago, in December 1999, helped him feel even more grateful and optimistic than ever.
"Thanks to Marisa and the incredible transplant team at Saint Barnabas, I felt like nothing could hold me back," Kevin said. "I recognized pretty quickly that the nausea and exhaustion I felt before I got the kidney were gone."
Ten years ago, in September 2011, Kevin received the gift of life a second time when he underwent a successful pancreas transplant. This time, his donor hero was an 18-year-old from Queens who had died of a brain tumor.
With his second transplant, Kevin was no longer a diabetic, and his health was fully restored. He is forever grateful to his donor hero for their selfless decision to donate life.
"After I woke up from the surgery, the doctor asked me to drink some regular apple juice and eat a few cookies, and I refused to do it because I was so afraid my blood sugar would rise," Kevin said.
"I remember my family and friends and the medical team laughed at me and assured me that everything was now OK. It took me a little while to realize that there was now no more peritoneal catheter, no more insulin pump, no more lack of energy while on dialysis, and no more low blood sugar."
Kevin and his loved ones happy are now happy to celebrate his 10-year and 22-year transplant anniversaries.
He is more passionate than ever about supporting NJ Sharing Network and its life-saving mission to help educate others about the power of organ and tissue donation and transplantation.
"I recognize that I am now able to enjoy any of the activities and life experiences that I want to thanks to my transplants," Kevin said.
"I want to give hope to those on the waiting list for a transplant and encourage everyone to register as organ and tissue donors to help save lives. Being an organ donor becomes almost intuitive.
Everyone should understand that once their life has passed, organ donation is an opportunity to help give other people a chance to live their life. It's just the right thing to do."
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.
Photo courtesy of NJ Sharing Network