By: Yuritza Arroyo
Christine Williams, 61, recently celebrated seven years since her life was saved thanks to a successful double-lung transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
According to officials, the lifelong New Jersey resident has enjoyed this milestone with many loved ones and friends, including her five children, nine grandchildren, and a great-grandson.
“I feel like every day is a blessing from God,” said Christine.
“I am forever thankful to my organ donor and their family for giving me the gift of life. Because of them, I have been able to enjoy more time with my family, and I am inspired to give back to others.”
One of the many ways that Christine is giving back is by serving as a powerful advocate for NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue in the Garden State.
She actively shares her transplant journey with others to encourage more people to register as organ and tissue donors.
Christine was born and raised in East Orange, the ninth of 10 children in her loving home.
Her parents, Doris and Bill, were active in the U.S. army throughout her childhood. Doris was a 2nd Lieutenant serving stateside, and Bill was a Private stationed in Okinawa.
Christine has fond memories of being the largest family at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament in East Orange, her love for music and playing classical piano, and her years at Saint Vincent Academy in Newark.
In 2009, Christine faced a severe health concern when she was hospitalized with pneumonia twice. Testing showed scarring on Christine’s lungs, and she was ultimately diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.
“They told me there was no cure and that life expectance with IPF was about 1-3 years,” said Christine.
“I remember thinking, ‘well, this may be it.’ However, I had the support of my family, and I kept hold of my faith.”
Christine was inspired to focus on her health. She lost more than 30 pounds by exercising daily and returned to work. However, in 2013, Christine’s condition worsened, and she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.
She traveled for procedures and treatments at some of the finest medical institutions in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania before being added to the transplant list at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in August 2015.
Christine vividly recalls the day she received a call for a transplant.
“On January 3, 2016, I was getting ready to go to church. I always joked that my car was like a ‘bomb on wheels’ because I had to carry my oxygen tanks along with me everywhere I went,” said Christine.
“My son Darrell received the voicemail. I remember turning to my daughter Gabrielle and saying, ‘Oh wow, this is really happening.’
I only waited for four hours, and I was wheeled in for the surgery. It was a very spiritual experience for me. I saw light, and I felt like I was being carried by angels. I knew in my heart that I was going to be OK - I was never so confident in my life.”
Christine’s life-saving double lung transplant was a success, but she had a difficult challenge ahead in her recovery.
“I anticipated staying in the hospital for a month, but I was home in nine days,” said Christine. “The physical recovery was grueling, but the mental and emotional challenges were even tougher.
I was not prepared for the range of feelings I had, including depression and survivor’s guilt. Now, I tell people waiting for a transplant to be sure to connect with others to ensure you have that emotional support every step of the way.”
Today, Christine is retired and doing all she can to give back to others by volunteering with NJ Sharing Network and the Garden State Pulmonary Fibrosis Group.
She also hopes that she will be able to personally connect with her donor family at some point in the future.
Currently, there are over 100,000 Americans – nearly 4,000 of whom live in New Jersey – waiting for a life-saving transplant, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
However, the generosity of those in the Garden State is providing hope for the future.
In 2022, the number of organ donors (283) and organs transplanted (670) in a single year reached all-time highs. This marked the fourth consecutive year that NJ Sharing Network has reported new records in the number of organ donors, underscoring the clear trend of increased support for organ donation.