Sharing Life, Saving Lives

Less than one-third of New Jersey’s licensed drivers are registered organ donors, one of the nation’s lowest. NJ Sharing Network works toward expanding this registry to better serve nearly 5,000 New Jersey residents awaiting life-saving organ transplants.

Anthony Rizzo passed away on June 14, 2010 at the age of 16 following a tragic accident. Though gone much too soon, his generous heart is still beating. In his passing, Anthony graciously bestowed the gift of life to people he never knew. Through organ donation, the unexpected end to Anthony’s life saved the lives of five people and granted the gift of sight to two.

Along with his heart, Anthony’s parents made the decision to donate both of his kidneys, pancreas, and liver, which was split to share among two recipients His tissue donation was also used to enhance the lives of up to 50 recipients.

Since Anthony was under the age of 18 at the time of his death and had not yet made a decision about being an organ donor, his parents were left to make that choice when he was legally declared brain dead following the accident.

“Anthony was such a loving and giving human being that the gift of donation was inevitable,” said his mother, Suzann Rizzo.

In reflecting on a tragedy that changed her life forever, Suzann draws comfort in knowing that vital parts of her son have entered the circle of life where death is not really the end but the seed of saving another life.

“Anthony’s legacy lives on,” says Suzann proudly. “He is a hero to me, my family, and now to other people as well.”

Completing the circle of life

NJ Sharing Network is the federally-designated nonprofit agency responsible for the recovery of organs and tissues for nearly 5,000 New Jersey residents in need of life-saving transplants. This organization, headquartered in New Providence, works tirelessly to broaden the circle of life for prospective organ donors and the recipients in need.

The dedicated team at NJ Sharing Network coordinates organ and tissue procurement and arranges for the placement of donated organs. Its transplant laboratory is a fully accredited state of the art facility that performs histocompatibility testing of potential organ donors and the recipients. The lab is credited with saving the lives of over 8,000 New Jersey residents since NJ Sharing Network was formed in 1987.

More than 115,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants and each day 18 people die waiting for the organ that could have saved their life, according to NJ Sharing Network. Additionally, one new name is added to the transplant wait list every 10 minutes, the organization reports.

These numbers indicate an urgent need for more donors and further developments in transplant research. Stories like Anthony’s illustrate the impact that just one donor can have on multiple recipients, their families, and the families of organ donors.

The figures for organ transplants also affirm the potential for positive results when a match is made: one organ donor can save up to eight lives and restore health to 50 others through tissue donation.

The organization’s primary goal of saving more lives can be fulfilled by increasing New Jersey’s donor registry, as less than one-third of licensed drivers in the state are currently registered as donors. This ranks New Jersey 44th out of the 50 states in the percentage of registered organ and tissue donors.

NJ Sharing Network believes that public awareness campaigns to educate people on the life-saving and enhancing benefits of organ donation are critical to increasing the donor registry.

Through the NJ Sharing Network Foundation, the fundraising arm, the organization pursues public education and outreach projects, offers donor family support programs, and advances laboratory research initiatives.

The money raised is used directly to provide grants for outreach and education programs: seven grants were provided in 2010, nine grants in 2011, and 16 grants in 2012.

The grants range in size from $500 to $150,000, and have been applied to programs such as an exhibition at Liberty Science Center on the benefits of organ and tissue donation. These grants have also funded the High School Heroes initiative, which educates all New Jersey high school students to ensure they can make an informed decision regarding donor registration.

The results of NJ Sharing Network’s outreach initiatives are especially promising in recent years. From 2011 to 2012, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Agencies saw an 8.8 percent increase in the number of people who registered as organ and tissue donors.

Leveraging corporate partnerships

Area organizations like Hackensack University Medical Center, Wiss & Company, and Investors Bank have stepped on to invest and share in the success of NJ Sharing Network.

Suzann Rizzo is a branch manager at the Carteret location of Investors Bank, one of NJ Sharing Network’s key corporate sponsors. It is her personal connection to the cause that binds this effective and mutually beneficial corporate-philanthropic relationship.

“Investors Bank has a deep responsibility and commitment to its employees and the communities we serve. We strive to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Investors Bank Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Domenick Cama. “We felt compelled to support Suzann because we believe in the concepts of time, talent, and treasure.”

At last year’s 5K Share Race to Save Lives, Suzann led the highest fundraising team, raising $32,000 toward the NJ Sharing Network Foundation in memory of her son. As her employer, Investors Bank stepped up to support her and matched the donations she raised.

“We take special pride in supporting our own staff members when they give their time to supporting an organization like NJ Sharing Network. We feel it is one of the best things you can do to support them.”

Cama advises that every organization should implement corporate social responsibility and employee involvement programs to engage employees and give back to the community.

“It’s much more meaningful than writing a paycheck sometimes. Salary is not the only rewarding aspect of a person’s job,” says Cama.

He also believes that the support an organization shows for its local community can prove invaluable in gaining consumer trust and building profitable relationships that in turn can raise visibility and revenue over time.

In addition to NJ Sharing Network, Investors Bank also partners with American Heart Association, March of Dimes, and other local organizations. Two times a month, Investors Banks sends a group of employees to serve meals at St. John’s Bread & Life Program in Newark, the oldest soup kitchen in New Jersey.

“You need to make a difference. We’re in a position to help people. We can make a difference in people’s lives,” Cama says.

One of the key returns on investment for organizations who execute corporate responsibility initiatives are sustained employee pride and loyalty, like in the case of Suzann.

“I’m very proud to work for this organization. I can relate my family to the tasks that I perform at my job,” says Suzann. “To have your senior management support you in such a way is outstanding.”

Suzann is thankful for the opportunities and support Investors Bank provides her that allow her to serve the NJ Sharing Network Foundation in memory of her son.

“In Investors Bank’s case, they have gone above and beyond in embracing something that is meaningful to one of their employees,” says NJ Sharing Network Foundation Executive Director Elisse Glennon. “They touch upon every aspect of corporate responsibility by allowing Suzann to be an active member on our board and promoting the NJ Sharing Network throughout their bank.”

Delivering the message to our communities

Critical to the success of NJ Sharing Network’s outreach and education efforts are its partnerships with hospitals, community-based organizations, elected officials, and corporations. Corporate support and sponsorship play a particularly important role in developing outreach programs, according to.

“Companies want to help communities where their customers and their employees live,” says Glennon, who builds relationships and recruits corporate sponsorships for NJ Sharing Network fundraisers like the Annual Share 5K Race to Save Lives and the Golf & Tennis Classic.

For many companies, corporate social responsibility is engrained in their mission statements and they see the benefit of participating with philanthropic causes like NJ Sharing Network.

“The impact of their investment with us is readily visibly. The money we raise through the foundation goes straight to projects to increase the number of organ donors,” says NJ Sharing Network President & Chief Executive Officer Joseph Roth. “The impact of those dollars is unique because it is immediate.”

Through continued public outreach and corporate partnerships, such as with Investors Bank, NJ Sharing Network will continue to increase the availability of grants to remember those who gave, to honor those who received, and to offer hope to New Jersey residents who continue to wait.

Fundraisers

One of the largest fundraisers for NJ Sharing Network is the Annual Share 5K Race to Save Lives, which started just two years ago. The inaugural total in 2011 was $450,000 and in 2012 the race raised $607,000. The fundraising goal for the 2013 race, to be held on June 9, is $750,000. Another major fundraising event is the Golf & Tennis Classic, which will be held on October 3.

Did you know?

  • Over 115,000 people are waiting for transplants in the United States, including 5,000 right here in New Jersey.
  • 18 people die daily waiting for a life-saving organ transplant
  • Your decision to donate could save and enhance more than 50 lives
  • Donation will not interfere with your medical care or burial arrangements
  • There are no costs associated with organ and tissue donation.
  • Many donor families are comforted knowing their loved ones gave life to others.

How to help NJ Sharing Network in its mission to save lives:

  • Say “yes” to organ and tissue donation every time you apply for or renew your New Jersey driver license or state ID card.
  • You can visit www.donatelifenj.org anytime to join the online donor registry through the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC).
  • Discuss your decision to be a donor with your family, now, while you can.
  • Support the NJ Sharing Network Foundation by participating in events like the Annual Share 5K Race to Save Lives (June 9, 2013) and the Golf & Tennis Classic (October 3). Visit www.njsharingnetwork.org for more information.

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