Circle of Life - Fall 2023

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Fall 2023


Volume 16 Issue 2

Inside NJ Sharing Network

CAROLYN'S COLUMN Every day, I am honored to work alongside our caring and compassionate staff, healthcare partners, and community volunteers. Our new thematic goal, Love what you do and the team around you, is an inspiring message serving as a powerful reminder that when we work together and support one another, we can reach new heights of achievement. And along with your support, we are off to a great start and focused on our bold vision and goal of reaching 300 organ donors and 700 organs transplanted in a single year by 2024! Through September, 536 organs were transplanted to save lives — the most ever during this time period in our organization’s history! In May, I visited Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations’ (AOPO) 2023 Advocacy Day. It was an honor to meet with Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr., and other legislators to discuss the organ donation and transplantation system and share information about our #DonationNeedsDiversity and Every Community Needs Heroes campaigns. We also reviewed our breakthrough innovations and research efforts (opposite page) that will enable us to save and enhance more lives. We appreciate the generosity of those who support the Sharing Network Foundation, including our 5K Celebration of Life participants and sponsors. The 2023 campaign was quite a success! Local businesses have also stepped up to participate in Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)'s DoNation campaign, which unites American workforces of all sizes and across all industries to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation and transplantation. This issue of Circle of Life celebrates the DIVERSITY that is woven into the fabric of our life-saving mission. The heartwarming tributes of donor heroes, like Tyree Thomas and Giovanna Castro (featured in our cover story), exemplify the giving spirit that exists in our communities. The uplifting stories of our transplant recipients and living donors provide hope for those waiting for the gift of life. The “In the Community” section features thought-provoking insights and ‘real talk’ from local leaders and our Community Services Team who are focused on dispelling myths and misinformation that exist in our communities of color about organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Together, we are unstoppable — UNITED by a PASSION that is leading us to save and enhance more lives than ever before. I encourage you to stay connected with us by visiting our website and following our social media channels. Please also feel free to reach out to us anytime at Thank you for your continued support! Sincerely,

Carolyn M. Welsh President and CEO, NJ Sharing Network


Our successes have earned awards and recognition from many local and national entities, including those featured below. Community Tissue Services (CTS) presented three “Lifesaver Awards” to NJ Sharing Network’s Tissue Recovery Department for being among the nation’s top performers. The NJBIZ Health Care Power 50 list includes Carolyn M. Welsh for leading NJ Sharing Network’s efforts in reaching all-time highs for both the number of organ donors and the number of organs transplanted in a single year. The International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine (IIAM) recognized NJ Sharing Network with the 2022 Outstanding Achievement Award.

An NJBIZ ICON Award was presented to Bonnie Evans, P.T., MHA. Bonnie joined NJ Sharing Network’s Governing Board of Trustees in 2013 and was a member of the Executive Committee from 2015 to 2023. She is currently a NJ Sharing Network Advisory Board Member. For the sixth consecutive year, NJ Sharing Network was named as one of NJBIZ 's Best Places to Work in the Garden State!


New Advisory Board Members

JANICE CAMPBELL Serenity Hospice of New Jersey

CHRISTOPHER BRYANT Diabetes Foundation

CECILIA LASSITER Sills Cummis & Gross State and Local Incentives Practice


IN MEMORIAM We are saddened by the passing of Bruce I. Goldstein, Esq., 80. A heart transplant recipient, Bruce served on NJ Sharing Network’s Board of Trustees. As Board Chair from 2015 to 2017, Bruce’s insights, passion, and strategic guidance helped ensure that more lives would be saved and enhanced through organ and tissue donation.

“Bruce's spirit will forever guide our mission, reminding us of the incredible impact one person can have on the world.” — Carolyn M. Welsh


COMING IN 2024 - SIM CENTER! NJ Sharing Network team members are filled with excitement as construction on the Joseph S. Roth Simulation Training Center will be underway in just a few months! The new center within NJ Sharing Network’s headquarters will help prepare clinical teams with the best hands-on learning options available to manage donors and support families. It will feature the same technology and equipment used in partner

Rendering by Amico Clinical Solutions

hospitals throughout New Jersey. To learn more about funding opportunities for this exciting project, contact our Foundation Office at 908-516-5566 or contactus@

ADDRESSING RACIAL DISPARITIES IN TRANSPLANT OUTCOMES NJ Sharing Network is playing a vital role in a national research study focused on improving the lives of those who donate and receive kidneys by learning more about the impact of the APOL1 gene on kidney transplantation outcomes. African Americans have a higher risk for end-stage renal disease and require dialysis treatments 3 to 4 times more often than other racial and ethnic groups. Medical research has shown that some of this risk is related to variations in a gene called apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1). These variations can also impact outcomes after kidney transplantation and affect the safety of living kidney donation for the kidney recipient. The National Institutes of Health’s APOLLO Study tracks and analyzes African American, AfroCaribbean and HispanicBlack donor and recipient

“This is the largest study of its kind. Our ongoing efforts will ultimately help develop more treatments and medications to save more lives of African Americans.” Oscar V. Colon, RN, BSN, CPTC, NJSN Assistant Director of Surgical Recovery Services

pairs. It brings together Organ Procurement Organizations, HLA Laboratories, a community advisory council comprised of kidney donors, recipients and advocates, and approximately 240 transplant programs across

the United States. The APOLLO Study’s initial phase of specimen and data collection wrapped up on May 31, 2023. NJ Sharing Network led the way by coordinating 15% of the study’s participants, including many of our generous donor families who said 'YES' to donation for research. A preliminary data analysis report will be completed in 2024. “This is the largest study of its kind. Our ongoing efforts will ultimately help develop more treatments and medications to save more lives of African Americans,” said Oscar V. Colon, RN, BSN, CPTC, NJSN Assistant Director of Surgical Recovery Services. “The APOLLO Study is a big step in our work to eliminate health care disparities and improve the health and well-being in our communities with the greatest need.”

It’s a ‘Virtual’ Match! The miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation is made possible through the successful execution of carefully choreographed steps bringing together Organ Procurement

implementing Virtual Crossmatch Testing (VXM) for kidney transplants. “VXM has allowed us to transplant more patients and better utilize the gift of donation to benefit donors, donor families,

VXM has been a true gamechanger — creating more efficient matching and better outcomes to save more lives.

Sharyn Sawczak, NJSN Vice President Clinical Utilization and Laboratory Operations Organizations (OPOs), donor hospitals, transplant hospitals, medical examiners, and donor families. Crossmatch testing is one of the critical steps in this life-saving process for kidney transplants. This helps ensure recipients do not have pre-existing antibodies that will fight and destroy the transplanted kidney. The traditional ‘gold standard’ for this testing is a physical crossmatch, which includes mixing the recipient’s blood with cells from the donor. While physical crossmatches have helped save countless lives for decades, the downside is the process takes hours to complete. In March 2023, NJ Sharing Network’s Transplant Laboratory and Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC) took a bold step by

and kidney recipients,” said Francis L. Weng, MD, MSCE, Chief of the Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division at CBMC. “Technology has evolved where we can use physical samples and tests ahead of time. Instead of physically mixing the samples, NJ Sharing Network’s team performs analysis using the most advanced computer technologies available. This reduces the time kidneys are kept on ice while awaiting identification of a suitable recipient.” According to Dr. Weng, VXM has allowed for more kidneys to be accepted for transplant because of improved scheduling for surgeons and operating room staff. It is also alleviating the emotional stress on patients who, in the past, would have been called to the hospital only to be sent home hours later. Circle of Life 1

In the Community

Community outreach and education play a critical role in our life-saving mission. These efforts inspire our volunteers and community members to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors. Throughout the year, we are proud to connect with our diverse communities! Check out these great snapshots from our recent programs and events. In November, we look forward to celebrating National Donor Sabbath and connecting with our local communities of faith. To get involved, please email dpeoples@

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Ten New Jersey high school graduates were awarded scholarships for the 2022-23 academic year for their passion and dedication to raising awareness of organ and tissue donation. The scholarships were made possible thanks to Hearts for Emma Partner Fund, Jim Rhatican Scholarship Fund, Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund and Riley’s Path. The deadline to apply for the 2023-24 scholarships is 2/26/24 at www. sharingnetworkfoundation. org/scholarship. Pictured here are scholarship awardees Noah Kuzloski, Maxwell Moore, Jacob Grabell, Veronica Sutkowski, Emily Blomkvist,

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Caitlin Knorr, Sophia Fliegler, and Amelia Rowniewski. Not pictured are Charbel Hachem and Nina D'Apolito.



Our Foundation’s Living Donor Council provides resources and mentorship to the brave heroes who come forward and save lives by donating their organs to others. The Living Donor Council and Team ​Liberty spearheaded a National Living Donor Day reception that brought together dozens of living donors and their loved ones. For more information, please email ​ contactus@sharingnetwork



Volunteers play a critical role in NJ Sharing Network’s life-saving mission by strengthening public education efforts. Five donation advocates were honored with awards during the 2023 Volunteer Appreciation Reception. Pictured are Tom Gano with the Jim Rhatican Legacy Award; Divakaran Manimaran with a Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, Anika Bhatnagar with a Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, Delia Perretta with the Innovator Award, and Dawn Burke with the Community Volunteer Award.



Thanks to our team members, community partners, and area residents for supporting NJ Sharing Network’s outreach activities. Our School Supplies Drive was a huge success, benefitting students in Camden and Paterson. We also proudly hosted a Blood Drive at our headquarters to help the American Red Cross respond to a national blood shortage currently affecting New Jersey.

During National Minority Donor Awareness Month, NJ Sharing Network volunteers set up table displays and distributed organ donation information at Walgreens stores in local multicultural communities, including Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Jersey City, Plainfield, Irvington, East Orange, and Bayonne.




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H T Y M WITH OUR COMMUNITY EDUCATION TEAM G N I T BUS our life-saving message “is allSharing about making connections and

I understand why we, as African “Americans, have not always trusted the

building trust in our communities. We plant seeds and open minds when they hear our message. We need to be visible and supportive in our communities throughout the year – always giving back to our neighbors in need.

medical system. There was a long history of mistreatment and experimentation, and that is not easily erased. But we need to move from fear to faith and trust. We must be proactive with our health and also be proactive in wanting to help save and enhance the lives of others through organ and tissue donation.

In 2000, Denise Peoples of Newark was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a debilitating lung disease. After a successful double-lung transplant, she was inspired to educate others about the miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Today, Denise is a Community Services Manager at NJ Sharing Network. She is recognized for her outreach efforts in schools, faithbased and community organizations. She has shared her amazing transplant journey in countless interviews on television, radio and social media platforms. Denise also spearheads NJ Sharing Network’s Live Healthy & Move neighborhood events that offer free health screenings, fitness activities, tips on healthy eating, and information on local resources for families. “Because of my transplant, I can share a unique perspective,” said Denise. “I find purpose every day in helping to spread the word and dispel any myths and misinformation about organ and tissue donation.”

As a Community Services Manager, Ametra Burton of Newark has expanded NJ Sharing Network’s team of dedicated volunteers and created many new partnerships with local schools, businesses, and organizations. Her passion for NJ Sharing Network’s mission comes from her personal connection as her stepfather’s life was saved twice as a result of successful kidney transplants. Ametra is admired by her colleagues for her genuine personality and her unique ability to connect with others. Her ‘real talk’ approach has helped break barriers and create important two-way conversations about organ and tissue donation. “When someone tells me they are not interested in registering as a donor, I ask them if they would accept an organ donation to save their own life or the life of a loved one. This usually gets people thinking and opening up,” said Ametra. “My goal is to help people make their own decisions based on facts - not fear or misinformation.”

“Our Community Services Team is a remarkable group. We're incredibly fortunate to have

team members who not only share an unwavering commitment to our mission but also have profound personal connections to it. They embody our cause, living and breathing it every day, and their genuine passion and strong community connections make a real impact.

Kelly Bonventre, Assistant Director of Community Services

Iveth Gonzales of West Orange recalls successful kidney transplants. According the grief that overwhelmed her family to Iveth, her mother found comfort in Hearing and seeing real as they sat at her father Victor’s bedside speaking with the NJ Sharing Network life examples of how organ and during his final days. clinical team in Spanish. tissue donation has changed “It was difficult to share our decision Today, Iveth, a Community Services the lives of people who look Specialist at NJ Sharing Network, takes to donate with our extended family. and speak like them makes a immense pride in sharing her family’s We knew they would be reluctant difference. story. “I feel like I was meant to be here because they, like many in our Hispanic educating others to help save and enhance communities, do not trust the medical more lives,” said Iveth. “When people in our community. Now, slowly but surely, Hispanic communities learn my story, they they are open to understanding the life-saving mission of organ and tissue donation,” said Iveth. ask questions. It opens the door to conversations and connections. It is a game changer.” Victor’s donated organs saved the lives of two men who underwent

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many of us have “beenFortoldgenerations, that your whole body needs to be buried when you die. We need to change that mindset because it does not consider helping others live on through donation.

C. Lawrence Crump Councilman, City of Newark

communities, we do “notInlikeourtoHispanic talk to our family and friends about death. Organ donation seems to be a topic that is taboo to discuss. We need to start those conversations to educate and raise awareness.

Diana P. Calle Director, Union County Office for Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs

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It’s safe to say that Newark Councilman C. Lawrence (Larry) Crump was born to serve our local communities. In August 2021, the lifelong Newark resident was honored to fill the council position vacated by his mother, Council President Mildred C. Crump, who was the first African American woman elected to the city's governing body. Councilman Crump learned well from his many years of watching and later working alongside his mother. He has been applauded for his efforts in prioritizing seniors and those who are economically disadvantaged. His many civic and community board memberships and connections include Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Newark Symphony Hall, Prince Hall Master Mason - Tyre Lodge #29, Leadership-Newark and Bethany Baptist Church. Early in Councilman Crump’s professional career, he served as Judicial Law Clerk for the late Superior Court Judge F. Michael Giles, who was a Sharing Network Foundation Board Member. Judge Giles’ son Dr. Randall Giles tragically passed away in 2012 and gave the gift

of life to others as a donor hero. “I have met so many people whose lives have been touched by organ and tissue donation and transplantation,” said Councilman Crump. “In our community, there is a lack of education and awareness about many important health issues and topics. We need to overcome the perception that organs are not equitably distributed by sharing the real facts and stories of those around us.” Three years ago, COVID-19 traumatically affected the life of Councilman Crump, who spent several days in the hospital. The experience renewed his faith and determination to help others. “Our family was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support we received from our community,” said Councilman Crump. “It reminded me that we always have to do everything we can to care for those in times of need. Organ donation gives you the unique opportunity to help others when you are gone. We should all be checking the organ donor box to save lives.”

Diana P. Calle was born in New York City of Ecuadorian parents, and she spent much of her childhood in Ecuador. In 2003, Diana moved to Elizabeth and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kean University. Thanks to her contributions as Director of the Union County Office for Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs (OPDSN) and her volunteer efforts, Diana was recently named as one of the “40 Under 40 Latinos” by Negocios Now, a national publication. Diana serves as a Board Member of LUPE Fund, Inc., a non-profit focusing on educating and empowering Latinas in New Jersey. She is also a member of the League of Women Voters and Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Inc. Diana’s personal connection to organ and tissue donation began after her cousin unexpectedly passed away at the age of 25 following a stroke. She recalls the shock and intense grief that her family members felt during his final days in the hospital. “My cousin lived a perfectly healthy lifestyle. He never smoked or drank alcohol or did drugs,”

said Diana. “It all happened so suddenly. Our family was not prepared to discuss or make a decision about organ and tissue donation. Many of my relatives now understand that he could have saved and enhanced many lives. That experience taught me that conversations about organ and tissue donation need to happen long before that painful time at bedside in the hospital to help ease the burden on families.” Diana now takes an active role working alongside NJ Sharing Network’s Public Education team in outreach activities to encourage local residents – especially in our Hispanic communities – about the importance of registering as organ and tissue donors. “I hope that sharing my story changes some mindsets and motivates people to register,” said Diana. “I also like to remind our younger generations that life can change in an instant. You may be healthy today, but, at some point, you could be the one who needs an organ transplant to save your life.”

SPEAK ABOUT ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION Dr. Leslie P. Osei-Tutu is a well-respected anesthesiologist who has been caring for local patients for more than 20 years. Despite her many professional accomplishments, Dr. Osei-Tutu always remains humble and likes to make it clear to everyone that she is mostly, “just a mom.” In 2010, Dr. Osei-Tutu was devastated to learn that her 22-year-old son, Omari, was diagnosed with a rare incurable kidney disease. Just four years later, Omari became critically ill, lost all kidney function, and was placed on dialysis. “Omari has been my world since he was a beautiful baby boy. As his mother, I would do anything to protect him and help save his life,” said Dr. Osei-Tutu. “I never hesitated to offer one of my kidneys to Omari as a living donor.” Throughout the rigorous medical testing, it was discovered that Dr. Osei-Tutu was not a transplant match for Omari. She instead participated in Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Kidney Exchange Program (also known as a “Kidney Swap”) where, by donating

her kidney to save the life of a stranger, Dr. Osei-Tutu enabled Omari to receive a matching kidney and undergo a successful kidney transplant at the same time. “Omari is now like a new person. It’s wonderful to see him pursuing his personal and career goals and becoming more engaged in his social life,” said Dr. Osei-Tutu. Today, in addition to her clinical responsibilities, Dr. Osei-Tutu co-hosts a podcast and continues to share her story as a way to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors and consider living organ donation. “I don’t feel that I did anything special by choosing to be a living organ donor. I share my experience because many people do not know much about the donation and transplantation process,” said Dr. Osei-Tutu. “I’ve had many people admit that they were unaware that a person can live with only one kidney. I think my story helps people reestablish trust in the medical community and encourages them to consider paying it forward by giving the gift of life.”

H. Grady James IV touches many lives in our local communities. He is the passionate and dynamic principal of Hawthorne Avenue School in Newark, minister at First Bethel Baptist Church (FBBC) in Irvington, member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and a Prince Hall Mason (Bethel Lodge No. 10 - Orange NJ, Sardonias Consistory No. 41 - Newark, NJ, and Golconda Temple No. 24 - Newark, NJ). Grady believes that organizations such as these provide communities with access to much needed and transformative knowledge, work, and charity. “The biggest issue in our African American community is misinformation and lack of information about how organ donation can be used to save lives,” said Grady. “For years, it has been said that ‘they’re taking the organs of people of African descent and using them for their own purposes.’ So of course, our people will be hesitant to check the box as organ donors if they believe that there is a hidden agenda.”

Grady has taken an active role in NJ Sharing Network’s life-saving mission by speaking to his church congregation, school staff and community residents to set the record straight. He also plans to incorporate discussions about organ and tissue donation during fraternity networking events and activities. “The health narrative must be changed for our people by educating everyone using the real data and facts,” said Grady. “Prevention is the key. We need to do much better in preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol and all of the health issues that are plaguing us. We have to live and eat better. We need to educate ourselves and learn more about organ donation and how it helps save lives. It is not helpful to totally reject the conversation on organ donation, and at the same time, eat and live in a way that creates chronic disease. People need as much info as possible to know how we can stay alive.”

As a Black woman and as a “physician, I know there is considerable misinformation and mistrust in our community about organ donation and transplantation. I recognize the importance of sharing my story and thereby infusing a cultural connection to organ donation in general and living donation in particular.

Dr. Leslie Osei-Tutu Anesthesiologist

The only way for our community “to understand that organ and tissue donation and transplantation is not another game being played on us is by being educated on the facts by those we can trust.

H. Grady James IV Principal, Hawthorne Avenue School

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Cover Story

world, it seems Ithatn today’s it has become far too easy

“We must learn

to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

to focus on what separates us rather than what unites us. Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best –“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Those of us who have been touched by organ and tissue donation and transplantation understand Dr. King’s words and the importance of caring for one another. It is a unified mission that affects so much more than just donors and recipients. It also has a powerful ripple effect on the families, friends, and neighbors of those who love and support them. The inspiring stories featured in this issue of Circle of Life highlight some of the amazing donor heroes, recipients, and volunteers who make our diverse transplant community so special.

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“Without the organ donor, there is no story, no hope, no transplant. But when there is an organ donor, life springs from death, sorrow turns to hope and a terrible loss becomes a gift.” —United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)

A Trusting Spirit Lives on Forever On April 10, 2021, Livia Oliveira remembers hearing her daughter Giovanna’s sweet voice on the phone as she told her she would be home soon. Livia gave Giovanna the heads up that everything was perfect at home as Giovanna’s two-year-old son, Owen, was laughing and enjoying his time with his avó (grandmother in Portuguese) Livia. Just a few hours later, Livia received another phone call that turned out to be her worst nightmare. The police officer’s voice on the other end stammered a bit as he dreadfully explained that Giovanna was in critical condition at St. Joseph's University Medical Center as a result of a drug overdose. “My body and heart just froze, and it felt like everything went black at that moment,” said Livia. Livia rushed to the hospital to find Giovanna lying in bed, unresponsive and on a ventilator. For nearly a week, Livia and Giovanna’s siblings, Renan and Ashley, stayed at Giovanna’s bedside praying for a miracle. “Our pain was unbearable,” said Livia. “It felt like Giovanna’s entire life story passed in front of me. I kept remembering the day she was born and how she trusted and loved everyone around her. She had the kindest heart and sweetest soul.” During the final moments of Giovanna’s life, Livia kissed her forehead and promised her that she would always take care of Owen. She also made the heroic decision that allowed Giovanna to give the gift of life to others as an organ donor. “I wiped my tears and thought of families who had a child or a relative facing death,” said Livia. “It was an easy decision for me to donate Giovanna’s organs to save lives. I did not want anyone else to feel that pain. We know that life is not eternal, but we can help others live on. I am forever thankful for the care and support from NJ Sharing Network and the medical team at the hospital.” Giovanna’s gifts saved the lives of four people. Her lungs were transplanted into a 62-year-old female, her liver was transplanted into a 67-year-old female, her pancreas and left kidney were transplanted into a 45-year-old male, and her right kidney was transplanted into a 55-year-old female. 10 Circle of Life

Livia has corresponded with the recipient of Giovanna’s lungs, who is grateful that she is now able to enjoy precious moments with her grandson. “Our PICU team was honored to care for Giovanna and her family,” said Angelia Taylor, RN, MSN, Nurse Manager, PICU Seton 2,

raising awareness about the dangers of illegal drugs. Her social media pages are flooded with thousands of followers as she shares Giovanna’s tragic story. “I want everyone to know that one pill can kill,” said Livia. “Giovanna trusted the wrong people, and that may be what caused her life to end far too soon. I hope that Giovanna’s story helps remind parents to protect their children and always communicate with them.” Livia also discusses NJ Sharing Network’s lifeGiovanna holding her son, Owen saving mission as part of her outreach efforts. “As a spiritual person, I know that God wants us to care and protect others. That’s why I am passionate when I explain to people that registering as an organ and tissue donor is just the right thing to do,” said Livia.•

“ Our PICU team was honored

Giovanna (at top) with mom Livia Oliveira

St. Joseph's University Medical Center. “Their hearts are filled with gratitude and comfort knowing that four precious lives were saved through Giovanna’s generous gifts. We thank the family for their thoughtfulness, and they will always have a special place in our hearts.” Earlier this year, Livia’s heart was filled with joy as she was legally granted full custody of Owen, who is now five years old. Livia has also become a well-recognized advocate

to care for Giovanna and her family. Their hearts are filled with gratitude and comfort knowing that four precious lives were saved through Giovanna’s generous gifts. We thank the family for their thoughtfulness, and they will always have a special place in our hearts.

— Angelia Taylor, RN, MSN Nurse Manager, PICU Seton 2, St. Joseph’s University Medical Center

Forever in Our Hearts

James Thomas smiles when he thinks back on his many great childhood memories of growing up in his family’s home in East Orange. His mother, Cheryl, certainly had her hands full raising James, his sisters, Jasmine and Tiara, and his younger brother, Tyree. “I was four years old when Tyree was born, and I knew right away that we were going to have a lot of good times together,” said James. “We were very competitive with each other in almost everything we did. We had fun with little things like battling for the TV remote control or arguing about who had the faster bike. We fought hard, and we loved hard.” As James and Tyree entered their teenage years, their bond grew even stronger. James admired Tyree’s selflessness and his ability to stay humble at all times. “When Tyree did something good, he didn’t want to make a big deal about it. He wanted to stay behind the scenes,” said James. “That’s why I always made sure that everyone around us knew when he did something sweet. That would make him pop me in the arm because he didn’t want all that attention. He was my little brother, and he meant the world to me.” Unfortunately, the Thomas family’s hearts were shattered when Tyree, 18, was fatally shot on the streets of his hometown in 2012. While 11 years have passed since this senseless tragedy, the family still strongly

It’s just the way we were raised – to be good people and to help others if you have the means to do it.” Donor hero Tyree Thomas saved the lives of seven people. Today, Cheryl, James, Jasmine, and Tiara proudly wear lockets We are so proud to have James Thomas containing Tyree’s as a member of our healthcare team. ashes to keep his love and energy close at all I truly admire his mother’s decision to times. James works as donate Tyree’s organs to help save the a patient transporter at University Hospital lives of seven people. and hopes to advance — Maria Brennan, DNP, RN his career in nursing. Chief Nursing Officer, Jasmine and Tiara also have healthcare careers University Hospital at Care Well Health Medical Center, formerly East Orange grieves their loss, especially Cheryl, who does General Hospital. They all take pride in not like to speak much about Tyree’s passing. educating others about the power of organ However, the family finds some comfort in and tissue donation and transplantation. knowing that Tyree’s donated organs saved “Our conversations about how Tyree saved the lives of seven people, including a police others nudged several of our family members officer who received Tyree’s heart. and friends to check the box to register as “My mom never hesitated when doctors organ and tissue donors,” said James. “It’s all came into the room to explain Tyree’s about helping others and leaving a legacy. condition and when we spoke to the amazing That’s what keeps the world spinning. I know NJ Sharing Network team,” said James. that Tyree would be proud right now – but, “She did not want Tyree to die in vain. I in his own humble way, he wouldn’t want to remember her saying, ‘when one life is lost, accept the credit and get the spotlight.”• we can save many through organ donation.’

COPING WITH GRIEF NJ Sharing Network honors every donor and family who makes the generous decision to donate at the time of their loved one’s passing. Ongoing support is offered beginning at the hospital and continuing with grief resources, workshops, and events. Caring professionals are available to help answer questions about donation, provide updates on recipients and assist with donor family/recipient correspondence. For more information, visit

Upcoming 2023 Grief Workshops for Families of Organ and Tissue Donors November 16 • Hope for the Holidays: Healing, Honoring, and Finding Peace in Loss • 6:30 pm November 19 • Hope for the Holidays: Healing, Honoring, and Finding Peace in Loss • 10:00 am For more information or to sign up to attend via Zoom, visit

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In the eyes of a transplant recipient, you can see a reflection of the gratitude that fills their heart, for they understand just how precious the gift of life is in a way few others can.

Each Day is a Blessing Christopher Bryant exudes a positive energy that seems to have a magical ability to uplift the spirits of those around him. His neighbors in Woodbridge often see him around town walking and riding bikes with his wife of 24 years, Georgette, and their 10-year-old daughter, Gabrielle. Christopher’s active lifestyle also includes feverishly cheering on his favorite sports teams and constantly tinkering with projects as a selfdescribed “tech geek.” “All of my experiences have taught me the value of life and have helped me understand just how rich and beautiful life is,” said Christopher. But many people who know Christopher find it hard to believe that he has struggled with critical health issues since he was a boy. “I was 16 years old when I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” said Christopher. “Taking injections daily and trying to avoid complications became a challenge that I figured I would have to deal with for my whole life.” According to Christopher, his life was an emotional roller coaster as his health grew progressively worse, ultimately leading to retinopathy and kidney failure. “It happened at a time when my professional career was just starting to take off,” said Christopher, who is now a successful Advocate and Care Guide for The Diabetes Foundation. “All I can remember is being numb and weak on the first day I started dialysis. But I kept a positive outlook on life with a lot of prayers.” The next day, Georgette arrived home from work with some incredible news that gave Christopher hope. One of her co-workers offered to donate her kidney to save Christopher’s life. “At the time, I did not know this amazing and generous 12 Circle of Life

woman, but she ended up being a perfect match for a successful transplant,” said Christopher. “She is my hero. I was off dialysis, had my strength back, and I returned to work with a second chance at life.” One year later, Christopher also underwent a successful pancreas transplant. This put his diabetes in remission for three years until his pancreas failed again. Several years later, his transplanted kidney failed after functioning well for 12 years post-transplant. “The miracle of transplantation kept me alive, but I found myself back to square one – having diabetes and being back on dialysis,” said Christopher. Christopher’s wait for a transplant lasted three years until he finally received ‘the call.’ His kidney and pancreas transplant was a success and he was, once again, on the fast track to having his health fully restored. “My donor hero this time was a man from Texas who had checked the box on his driver’s license to be an organ donor,” said Christopher. “His selfless decision not only saved my life, but also six others. I am forever thankful.” Today, Christopher is passionate about supporting NJ Sharing Network and its life-saving mission. “It is important to educate people – especially in our communities of color - that organ and tissue donation is the greatest gift that you can give,” said Christopher. “I also make it my priority to visit folks that are on dialysis to help give them hope for a brighter future.”•

Christopher Bryant with his wife, Georgette, and their daughter, Gabrielle, are living life!

I make it my priority to visit folks that are on dialysis to help give them hope for a brighter future. It is important to educate people – especially in our communities of color – that organ and tissue donation is the greatest gift that you can give. — Christopher Bryant, kidney/pancreas recipient

2 0 Years and Counting… Robyn Ashmen leads a fast-paced and hectic lifestyle. Often speaking and moving fast, in one moment, Robyn is rushing her daughter, Olivia, to her sports and Girl Scouts, and, in the next, she is standing at the front of a classroom at Stevens Institute of Technology, teaching her students about organizational leadership and health care management. But this year, Robyn has made it a point to take some quiet moments for reflection as she celebrates the 20th anniversary of her life-saving kidney and pancreas transplants. Recently, Robyn shared some of her thoughts and feelings with her fellow parishioners at St. Bartholomew’s Church in East Brunswick to encourage them to register as organ and tissue donors. “Every day, I thank God and my organ donor and his brave mother for the gift of life,” said Robyn. “We often forget that our actions can have a positive effect on the world. Organ and tissue donation creates a powerful ripple effect on the lives of others and their loved ones.” Robyn was only 16 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes. Despite her many health challenges, she worked hard to earn a Doctorate in Health Science, specializing in patient education and anxiety mediation for high-risk and at-risk mothers. “In 2002, I had just completed my master’s thesis when my kidney disease became critical and I had to begin dialysis,” said Robyn. “Dialysis was extremely difficult, but I continued to work full time, which helped me stay positive and hopeful.” Robyn’s prayers were answered nearly one year later when she received a phone call from

Living the Dream Carlos Martinez epitomizes the popular belief that success can be achieved through hard

Robyn Ashmen (center) with her daughter Olivia and her husband, Howard Woods celebrating their wedding earlier this year.

Every day, I thank God and my organ donor and his brave mother for the gift of life. We often forget that our actions can have a positive effect on the world. Organ and tissue donation creates a powerful ripple effect on the lives of others and their loved ones.

a nurse at Hackensack University Medical Center. “I’ll never forget her words, ‘Robyn, how would you like a perfectly matched kidney and pancreas?’ I fell to my knees with joy,” said Robyn. Robyn’s kidney and pancreas transplant surgeries were a success, giving her a second chance to live life to its fullest. Her donor hero was a young man from California who tragically passed away following an accident. Robyn continues to stay in regular touch with her donor’s mother. “It feels like he (my donor) nudges me when he wants me to speak to his mom,” said Robyn. “Whenever I get to enjoy a special moment or even times when I can enjoy eating something sweet, I tap my side and thank my donor for making everything possible.” In 2006, Robyn had a major health setback when she lost kidney function due to the BK virus. A few years later, she then experienced yet another life-changing moment. “I went to my doctor who noticed that my stomach had popped out a bit,” said Robyn. “I was shocked when an ultrasound showed I was five months pregnant. My doctors were even more surprised than my husband and me because they believed pregnancy was impossible and my body was too weak. The last two months of my pregnancy, I needed

to go back on dialysis, which was not easy.” On June 16, 2010, Olivia was born via emergency C-section. Despite arriving prematurely at 30 weeks, Olivia proved to be a strong fighter like her mother. “The medical team was expecting the worst. They called Olivia ‘a miracle baby’ because she was breathing room air - she was never intubated and her lungs were fine,” said Robyn. Two years after Olivia’s birth, Robyn received a second successful kidney transplant. This time, her living donor hero was her first cousin. Today, Robyn’s kidney and pancreas continue to function perfectly. She and her husband, Howard Woods, along with Olivia, now 13 years old, payback their blessings by volunteering in their community and church and being advocates for organ and tissue donation and transplantation.•

work and determination. Born in Bogota, Colombia, Carlos immigrated to Queens, New York, with his parents when he was two years old. While in high school, Carlos met his future

wife, Vivian, and they attended St. John’s University. Carlos and Vivian were married in 1986, and they moved to Colts Neck, New Jersey, where they raised their two sons, Brandon and Andrew.

—Robyn Ashmen kidney/pancreas recipient

Circle of Life 13

For more than two decades, Carlos held executive leadership positions with prestigious companies on Wall Street. Carlos and Vivian also owned and operated a successful software company for 19 years. In his free time, Carlos enjoyed hiking and skiing with his boys, and even became a certified scuba diver. “I could never just sit around and do nothing,” said Carlos. “Our life was always crazy and hectic, but we were very happy and healthy.” Unfortunately, nearly ten years ago, life changed drastically for Carlos and his family when he became severely ill and was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As his condition worsened, he was placed on the liver transplant waiting list. Carlos received more bad news when doctors also diagnosed him with final stage liver cancer. “It felt like my entire world just stopped, but we kept hope alive for a miracle,” said Carlos. In September 2017, Carlos received ‘the miracle call’ from the hospital that a liver was available for his transplant. Carlos was told that his donor hero was a 78-year-old man.

Carlos and Vivian Martinez

I am truly living the dream. I know that I am blessed to still be here thanks to my selfless donor, my loving and supportive family, and the amazing doctors, nurses and healthcare teams that have cared for me every step of the way.

“I admit that I questioned how long a 78-year-old liver would last,” said Carlos. “But I soon learned that a healthy, older liver is just as strong as an 18-year-old liver.” Since his successful transplant surgery, Carlos has had a new outlook on life. He has made it his number one priority to enjoy all of life’s precious moments. Carlos has volunteered his time to tell his transplant story to doctors and nurses in local hospitals to show them first-hand the powerful impact of organ donation and transplantation. Carlos and Vivian are now living in sunny Florida and are keeping busy managing their own residential home watch services company. Carlos is also the President and Founder of his local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). In July, the family returned to New Jersey to celebrate Brandon’s wedding. “I am truly living the dream,” said Carlos. “I know that I am blessed to still be here thanks to my selfless donor, my loving and supportive family, and the amazing doctors, nurses and healthcare teams that have cared for me every step of the way.”•

—Carlos Martinez, liver recipient


Choosing to be a living donor is a testament to the incredible kindness that resides within the human spirit.

A True Lifesaver Luis Rios has plenty of reasons to smile. He credits his positive energy and fun-loving spirit to those around him, especially his wife, JoAnn Fitzpatrick, his three daughters and his ten grandchildren. NJ Sharing Network’s life-saving mission also holds a special place in Luis’ heart. In 2019, he selflessly donated one of his kidneys to save the life of a complete stranger. “One day, I was watching a TV program that featured organ transplant recipients meeting their donor families. 14 Circle of Life

I was watching a TV program that featured organ transplant recipients meeting their donor families. I was so moved by the emotion of both the recipients and the families that I began to consider the idea of becoming a living donor. Luis Rios and his wife, JoAnn Fitzpatrick

—Luis Rios, living kidney donor

I was so moved by the emotion of both the recipients and the families that I began to consider the idea of becoming a living donor,” said Luis. Luis discussed his wishes with JoAnn, who served as a dialysis technician for nearly a decade. With JoAnn’s full support, Luis registered to be an altruistic living donor and began testing at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. “I will never forget when the hospital staff called and told me that I was matched with a woman who had been on the kidney waiting

list for eight years,” said Luis. “At the time, my life was very busy with work, and I was offered the option of waiting - but I quickly said ‘no, let’s do this’ because I knew that her life was in danger.” The transplant surgery was a success – both Luis and his recipient, Angelita, recovered quickly, and both are living life to its fullest! Luis beams with joy when he recalls the first time that he met Angelita and her family. “Angelita’s son hugged me and thanked me for giving him his mom back. At that

moment, I knew I had done the right thing,” said Luis. “They are now a second family to me. Angelita calls me every two weeks to make sure that I am ok. It has been an amazing experience, and I will continue to spread the word about organ and tissue donation to anyone that will listen.”•

Friends for Life

Richard Koonce (left) and Steven Robinson are forever linked.

Man, I knew I had to do something. I never hesitated — I told him that I would be happy to donate part of my liver to save his life. —Steven Robinson living liver donor for his friend Richard Koonce Steven had given his longtime friend a new lease on life. However, Richard needed a second liver transplant from a deceased donor hero to overcome some critical health complications. Today, both Steven and Richard are enjoying life to its fullest. The journey has also given the two spiritual men new

perspectives on life and the world around them. “When I speak to God, I pray that I did the best I could for my friend. I also hope it reminds my children to be considerate of other people in life and help others when you can,” said Steven. Richard, who was a multi-sport athlete and basketball coach, honors the gifts of Steven and his second donor by exercising and maintaining a proper diet. He also encourages those around him to register as organ and tissue donors as a way to pay it forward and save more lives. “When I was much younger and before I got sick, I used to say, ‘there’s no way that I’m checking that box to be an organ donor,’” said Richard. “Now, I understand there are many people – especially people of color – waiting for a life-saving transplant. There is no greater gift than the gift of life.” • Circle of Life 15

To Honor, To Remember, To Give Hope


Allison Ognibene has enjoyed living in Sparta since she was only 5 years old. She has many friends who appreciate her warm and funloving personality. But many people around town are surprised to learn that Allison is one of the longestliving heart and double-lung transplant recipients in the world. “It has been 35 years since the miracle of organ donation and transplantation gave me a second chance to live life to its fullest,” said Allison. “I am forever grateful to my organ donor. It is profound to know that so many transplant recipients, like me, are alive because of the generosity of others.” As a young girl, Allison was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH). Unfortunately, PPH health complications claimed the lives of Allison’s father and both of her sisters. “At that time, there were not many hospitals in our area that performed organ transplants,” said Allison. “I understand how blessed I am. Thankfully, medical advancements are now saving more lives than ever before.” Today, Allison is passionate about her work as a theatre professor at Sussex County Community College. She is also a member of NJ Sharing Network’s Sussex/Warren Donate Life Group.

am living proof of the power of “Iorgan and tissue donation.” — Allison Ognibene


Julian Rosado of Bayonne always brought smiles to the faces of his family, friends, and co-workers. He had a unique ability to make others feel comfortable – especially during difficult times when they needed support. “He was like a ray of sunshine,” said Mary Jane Rosado, Julian’s mother. “He was quirky and funny, and always had a positive spirit and energy. He especially loved his daughters, Julianna and Cheyenne.” As a young boy, Julian was diagnosed with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD. Despite struggling in school and sports activities, Julian worked hard to earn a degree and became a successful, OSHA-certified plumber. In March 2021, Julian married his sweetheart, Nicole Marie Vallese. The couple looked forward to a bright future together and planned on buying a new home. Just three months later, an unthinkable tragedy occurred when Julian passed away following an accidental fall. “My husband and I continually prayed for a miracle,” said Mary Jane. “We feel that our prayers were answered. It was not how we expected, but it was God’s way.“ While the family continues to miss Julian, they are proud that his caring legacy lives on as an organ donor. Julian’s gifts saved the lives of three people.

Now he is like a sunflower, who spreads seeds so more flowers can grow. It comforts me to know that my son, my sunshine, gave others the gift of life.

— Mary Jane Rosado, mother of Julian


Dr. Shanda Johnson, PhD, of Scotch Plains, is recognized by many in the Garden State for her decades of leadership and service in healthcare. As a Family Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Johnson devotes much of her time and energy to providing primary and specialty care to patients of all ages. She also helps guide the healthcare leaders of tomorrow as a professor at New Jersey City University. Dr. Johnson has improved the lives of countless patients despite her own serious health concerns. She has struggled with severe asthma and breathing issues since birth. In 2018, she experienced a life-threatening health scare and was rushed to the Emergency Room. “I knew right away that something was seriously wrong,” said Dr. Johnson. “This was not just my normal issues with asthma. I could not even walk down my stairs. It was very scary.” Dr. Johnson was diagnosed with chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (CHP). She is now on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant. While Dr. Johnson continues to maintain her busy schedule, she remains positive that the gift of life will soon come her way. “A few years ago, my motivation was to live to see my son Tyrell graduate high school. Now, he is following in my footsteps as a nursing student at Rutgers University. My hope now is to see him accomplish his dreams,“ said Dr. Johnson.

have some good days and some “Ibad days, but it is my amazing son, Tyrell, who motivates me and keeps me going.

— Dr. Shanda Johnson, PhD

A HAPPY UPDATE! The Winter 2023 issue of Circle of Life included an article about Wendy Carr, who was waiting for a life-saving heart transplant. Shortly following the printing of the magazine, Wendy received her new heart! She is doing great and was able to enjoy her son’s wedding in June! 16 Circle of Life

Raising Funds & Awareness

MAKING AN IMPACT THROUGH GIVING Chriseline Beaubrun of Plainfield recently celebrated her 15-year transplant anniversary and is forever grateful for her donor hero, as well as her family, friends, and colleagues. She has also made it a priority to give back by making monthly contributions to support the Sharing Network Foundation. “I simply would not be alive and here today if it wasn’t for NJ Sharing Network,” said Chriseline. “I am blessed and lucky. I feel like I can never do enough to give back because I received the greatest gift of all. I support the Foundation because I know that the transplant waiting list is long, and we cannot stop working to save more lives.”

Bobby Ring, President of Meyer & Depew, a communitybased HVAC company for 70 years, has been a powerful donation advocate. In 1984, Bobby donated one of his kidneys to save the life of his sister, Kathleen Ring-Allegra. A year ago, Meyer & Depew pledged to contribute a portion of the proceeds from every new residential heating and cooling system installation to the Sharing Network Foundation. “Knowing that our work benefits the Foundation to save and enhance lives is extremely gratifying and rewarding,” said Bobby.


“Individual and corporate giving empowers our efforts, bringing us a step closer to providing the greatest gift of all... the gift of life.” Amanda A. Tibok Executive Director Sharing Network Foundation


The newest additions to our Sharing Network Foundation’s Board of Trustees share a strong passion and commitment for our life-saving mission. They bring great energy, invaluable leadership, and diverse experiences and talents to help guide our efforts! This year’s 5K Celebration of Life events proved that we know how to ‘GO BIG’ here in the Garden State! Thousands of transplant recipients, donor families, living donors, hospital partners, generous sponsors and dedicated volunteers hit the boardwalk in Ocean Grove and


Ocean Pathway Ocean Grove, NJ

the streets of New Providence to raise awareness and critical funds for our collective mission to save lives. Support for the Sharing Network Foundation’s programs and activities has never been STRONGER! The 2023 5K Celebration of Life Campaign has

Save the Date!


raised nearly $1.6 million, and over $11 million since the event’s inception in 2011. It has become one of the nation’s largest philanthropic events to promote organ and tissue donation. We are proud of our caring and courageous donation and transplantation community!


NJ Sharing Network Headquarters New Providence, NJ

We hope you will consider our Foundation in your year-end charitable giving. To make a one-time or recurring monthly contribution in honor or in memory of a loved one, visit or contact our Foundation Office at 908-516-5566.

JP Bartolomeo Colts Neck, NJ Advocate

Bobby Ring Berkeley Heights, NJ Living Donor, Corporate Partner

Lorie Rodimer East Stroudsburg, PA Donor Mom, 5K Team Captain


691 Central Avenue New Providence, NJ 07974 800-742-7365 • 908-516-5400


PAID Union, NJ

Permit No. 931

NJ Sharing Network is the federally designated non-profit organization responsible for the recovery of donated organs and tissue for transplant in the Garden State. NJ Sharing Network provides hope for nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents currently waiting for a life-saving transplant, and it is part of the national recovery system for the over 100,000 people on the national waiting list. NJ Sharing Network is a designated OPO by UNOS; accredited by AOPO, ASHI, AATB and CAP; and registered with the FDA and NJ and NY State DOH. NJ Sharing Network is a member of Community Health Charities.

NJ Sharing Network has launched an extensive outdoor advertising campaign featuring custom billboards, bus, and PATH station posters in English and Spanish! The advertisements can be seen in diverse communities throughout the state, including Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Camden, Trenton, Bayonne, Rutherford, and more. A complete list of locations is available at The new campaign, which kicked off in August, is designed to spark conversations about organ and tissue donation and encourage people to register as donors. If you see one of our billboards or posters, please snap a photo and email it to us at socialmedia@


To receive an electronic copy of our Circle of Life magazine, join our mailing list at If you no longer wish to receive information from NJ Sharing Network, please email info@ Question or comments? Reach out to: editor@

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