WOODBRIDGE – Ezequiel Garcia of Newark will never forget that fateful phone call on Sept. 11, 2011. He was vacationing in the beautiful mountains of Puerto Rico, his native homeland. His wife, Iris, was the caller. The words out of her mouth were not to be believed. Their middle child, Reinaldo, had been involved in a motorcycle accident and was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, where he later died from injuries suffered.
“I felt like my world ended. It was something so big it was incomprehensible. It was the end of my world right then,” recalled Garcia, a retired Newark public school teacher.
Hundreds of miles away, Ezequiel could only think about getting home to his wife and two other sons. At the same time, the Garcia family, still at the hospital grieving, was approached by NJ Sharing Network to see if they would be willing to donate Reinaldo’s organs and tissue.
Knowing how much Reinaldo liked to help others, the family agreed.
“It was the best decision the family could have made at the time,” said Ezequiel. “Realizing that my son could help someone else gave my life meaning again.”
That sentiment is shared by Robin Bradley, a single mom from Newark, who lost her only child, Jameica Tutler, earlier this year from complications related to Sickle Cell Anemia.
“God could not have blessed me with a better child,” said Bradley. “She would do anything to help anyone.”
Tutler’s final act of kindness is arguably her most precious. She was able to donate her skin and corneas.
The heroic acts of Jameica and Reinaldo, along with hundreds of other organ and tissue donors from around the state, were honored at a memorial ceremony on Oct. 21. Family members and friends of donors filled a 400-seat ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in Woodbridge. Most in attendance did not know each other but they all shared a common bond. “Our tears are what bond us,” said Bradley.
The event was hosted by NJ Sharing Network, the organization responsible for recovering and then placing organs and tissue for the almost 5,000 New Jersey residents who desperately need a transplant.
During the program, each donor’s personal story was read out loud while their photograph was displayed on a large screen in the ballroom. At the same time, each donor family was given a hand-made shawl and medallion to thank them for their loved one’s final act of kindness.
Family and friends also paid tribute to their loved ones by creating a personalized quilt patch. One by one donor families pinned the squares to a larger blue quilt. Some families took pictures while affixing a patch; others observed a moment of silence.
“My mother was the type of person who would give you the shirt off her back,” said Jackie Lue Raia of Mahwah, whose mother, Ena Lue, saved three lives after she died in a car accident in 2010 by donating her liver and both kidneys. “Pinning her patch on the quilt is a permanent reminder of how special she was.”
Appreciative of the generosity of others, and gratitude for a life-saving transplant, was best described by Steve Sims of Maplewood, who retired after 23 years from the East Orange Police Department after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“Doctors told me I needed a new heart,” said Sims. “If it weren’t for the donors and NJ Sharing Network, I don’t know where I would be today. Thank you donors and thank you NJ Sharing Network.”
To learn more about organ and tissue donation contact NJ Sharing Network at 1-800-742-7365 or visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org to register as an organ and tissue donor.
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