Organ donations on the rise in NJ

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Three years ago, Keath Gerald’s congestive heart pumped at just 32 percent and he was on a collision course with calamity.

“In and out of hospital 42 times, my barber was asking, ‘do you do funeral arrangements?'” said Gerald.

Gerald spent 29 days on the organ transplant waiting list, which seemed like an eternity. But, today he’s alive thanks to a heart and liver transplant in 2015. Now he’s living an athletic life and competing in the 2016 Transplant Games of America.

“I won seven medals. I’m like the Lebron James, Michael Phelps of the transplant world,” Gerald said. “It’s truly amazing that anyone can donate their organs and makes me see that we’re all in this together,”

He says he would be in a cemetery or a hospital still waiting if he didn’t receive the transplant.

“Every day, 22 people die nationwide waiting for a transplant and I could have been one of them,” he said.

Gerald says he spends a considerable amount of time reaching out to folks in Newark and Paterson to encourage them to sign up to become organ donors.

“Fifty-eight percent on the list are minorities. So when I speak in a Paterson or Orange or Newark, where there are 189 people, people feel intrigued, ‘what can I do?’” elaborated Gerald.

Gerald is the community educator at the New Jersey Sharing Network, the nonprofit that promotes organ and tissue donation, and actually dispatches medical teams to procure organs for transplant to save lives.

“It feels great,” said New Jersey Sharing Network President and CEO Joe Roth.

Roth leads the Sharing Network, including decorating a Rose Bowl Parade float to spread the successes of organ donations. Roth says statistics show the public is getting the message.

Organ donations in New Jersey broke a record last year and jumped 38 percent over five years. Nationally, deceased donors surpassed 10,000 for the first time leading to the highest transplant surgeries ever.

“We have systems in place that we’ve improved over the years from potential organ donors when they’re referred to us from hospital,” said Roth.

Roth says more African-Americans recently have committed to organ donations but says he’s puzzled why the numbers dipped in 2017 for that group. He says signing up is as easy as using the health app on a smartphone and comes without risk. He says it can be a difficult choice for people to make.

“It has the ability to help people think about their mortality,” said Roth.

When asked if he was an organ donor before his surgery, Gerald replied ‘no’ because it was his mother’s wishes and for fear of certain myths for putting it on your driver’s license. Now, he says, she’s all for it.

And, Gerald says he’ll keep sharing the word till his heart stops pumping.