MONTCLAIR, NJ – This Thanksgiving will be a special time for Jill Szalony, 51, of Montclair, NJ. Jill, her husband Alex Samuelson and their three children, Benjamin, 22, Grace, 20 and Jesse, 18, celebrate the 5th anniversary of Jill’s heart transplant.
As the family happily counts her many blessings, Jill also reflects on the gift of life and the miracle of organ donation and transplantation.
In 2006, Jill’s health issues became of concern when she was diagnosed with atrial tachycardia. Her heart health gradually deteriorated and she reached end-stage heart failure in 2015.
“I remember feeling the fear and growing sadness that I couldn’t see my kids finish growing up,” Jill said. “Every moment and every hug seemed like the last. But I was determined not to give up, and we all held our breath that a heart would come.”
Early on the morning of October 30, 2016, Jill and her family received the “call” they had prayed for when a heart was available for transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI). The next day, Jill’s heart transplant was a success thanks to the NBI medical team and support from the NJ Sharing Network, the non-profit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissues for the near of 4,000 New Jersey residents awaiting a transplant.
“I have a vague memory of two nurses saying to me, ‘Congratulations! You have a beautiful new heart,'” said Jill. “As soon as I could speak, I asked to listen to my new heart. I spent days looking at the normal EKG, amazed at what a healthy heart could do. I kept doing exercises. lists of all the things I would be able to do now that I was healthy – even some mundane things like going to the grocery store alone. When you are faced with death, your goals change and the simple things have a lot of sense. “
The first summer after her transplant, Jill joined her family cycling the Cape Cod Rail Trail for the first time in several years. “Times like these are priceless,” Jill said. “Seeing the joy on their faces that I could finally be an active part of their life was a beautiful thing!”
Throughout her post-transplant journey, Jill is always mindful of her heart donor and family who made the selfless decision to donate.
“Giving others hope and a chance to live when they are faced with grief – it’s a selfless act of love and kindness,” Jill said. “They, and all donor families, are heroes. I try to live my life to the fullest. Whenever I discover the beauty of the world, a new adventure or something amazing with my family, I have them. thank you. “
Jill is now an active volunteer with the NJ Sharing Network, encouraging others to sign up as organ and tissue donors. She is also a member of the NBI Patient Family Advisory Council to help provide healing and support to patients and their families.
“Thanks to my hero donor, I watched my three kids graduate from high school and even graduated from them,” Jill said. “I was also able to be a proud, tear-eyed parent by dropping them off in college. My oldest son graduated from college in the spring and just made his Broadway debut playing in the Wicked Orchestra. As a family we have traveled and my husband and I have fun weekend trips now that we are empty nests. I try to find beauty everyday – be it a beautiful sunset or laughter someone or just the energy to get through a busy day. Life is full and I wouldn’t want it any other way! “
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), one person in New Jersey dies every three days while waiting for a transplant. One organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and improve the lives of more than 75 people.
To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.