As we approach the new year, Bernard China, 58, of Newark, NJ, and his family and friends are counting their many blessings.
According to NJ Sharing Network officials, Bernard is also taking time to reflect on the gift of life and the miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation as he celebrates the one-year anniversary of his life-saving heart transplant on December 30.
Bernard, his wife, Constance, and their five children, have enjoyed being together at home this holiday season as Bernard grows stronger each day.
“This Christmas was extra special for me as I was able to watch the kids open their presents,” said Bernard.
“The last two years, I had to watch on FaceTime from the hospital, and it just wasn’t the same. I feel blessed beyond belief to be alive and with those I love.”
Officials say Bernard now calls December 30 his “second birthday” to remember the date of his transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI).
Bernard is also forever mindful of the selfless decision made by his organ donor.
He proudly supports NJ Sharing Network’s efforts to raise awareness about the importance of registering as organ and tissue donors to help save lives.
“Organ donors are heroes,” said Bernard. “I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for my donor. I am extremely blessed to have this second chance to live life to its fullest.”
Officials say Bernard feels fortunate to be back to many of his normal activities such as attending church services and singing with the Mighty Royal Travelers, a gospel group that has performed across the United States and has songs on the Spotify streaming music app.
“I’ve been feeling great. I knew that I couldn’t do much the first three months after transplant, but I am doing a lot more now,” said Bernard.
“The other day, I used my leaf blower for quite a while and when I finished I was in some pain but it wasn’t too bad at all. I’m looking to get back not just to 100 percent, but 200 percent, where I come back stronger than ever.”
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 www.NJSharingNetwork.org.
Bernard’s Journey to Transplant
NJ Sharing Network officials say the long road to Bernard’s life-saving heart transplant began in August 2017, when he woke during the night and found it hard to breathe. Alarmed, he told Constance he was heading to the hospital, but encouraged her to stay home with their children.
Officials say tests showed fluid buildup in his lungs - a sign of heart failure. Diuretic medication drained fluid from his body, but the treatment wasn’t enough. He was referred to the Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant program at NBI.
“When Bernard came to us, his heart was very weak, and he was short of breath in his normal day-to-day activities,” said heart transplant cardiologist Saurabh Kapoor, MD, of the Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Program at NBI.
According to officials, a weak heart does not supply the body with enough oxygen-rich blood. As a result, the body begins to retain fluid, which can back up into different organs, including the lungs.
Normally, the heart’s pumping chamber ejects 65 to 75 percent of its blood with each heartbeat, officials say. Bernard’s heart was pumping just 8 percent.
Officials say oral medications helped at first, but by November 2018, the blood pumping capacity became so poor that Bernard was put on an intravenous drug administered continuously to help the heart contract.
Officials say Bernard’s condition was now serious enough that he began tests to qualify him for a heart transplant. Unfortunately, he had prostate cancer, which required four months of radiation treatment before a transplant could be considered. During that time, he also had a stroke.
“For a long time, I wasn’t eligible for a transplant because of all the other stuff going on,” said Bernard.
Finally, around Labor Day 2020, he learned he’d qualified for the transplant list.
“Bernard was on the cusp of cardiogenic shock, when organs can start to fail,” said Dr. Kapoor. “He was very sick and needed to stay in the hospital.”
Due to the pandemic, officials say, family visits consisted of Bernard looking out his eighth-floor window to see Constance and the kids waving from the parking lot.
On the evening of December 29, 2020, Bernard had been despondent on a call with his wife, still waiting for a transplant miracle.
Officials say Constance urged him to rely on the faith they shared, she as a preacher and he as a singer with the Mighty Royal Travelers.
“I didn’t want to hear what she was saying because I just wanted to go home,” said Bernard.
Constance insisted: “Bernard, it’s going to come.”
At 1:30 a.m., a nurse holding a glowing cell phone approached Bernard’s hospital bed and gently woke him.
“Mr. China, Dr. Kapoor is on the line,” she said.
Bernard jolted awake and took the phone.
“Mr. China,” Dr. Kapoor said, “we have your heart.”
Bernard barely had words. He dialed his wife, Constance, on his own phone. “
Just listen,” he said, and asked Dr. Kapoor to repeat his message.
The momentous call telling Bernard he had a donor was joyous for Dr. Kapoor as well.
“It’s an amazing feeling to call someone who is at risk of losing everything and say we found a match,” said Dr. Kapoor.
Officials say, now, as Bernard looks ahead, he is focused on raising awareness about the power of organ and tissue donation to help give others a second chance to enjoy more birthdays, holidays and life’s precious moments.