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Lemon trees are a rarity in New Jersey. It takes a special hand to cultivate a tree that bears the tangy fruit in the Garden State. At Anthony’s hands, the lemon tree flourishes in a planter warmed by his garage heater and an indomitable spirit. The zest of Anthony’s lemons is matched only by his zest for life, a life renewed at age 67.
After nearly 50 years cultivating the soil of NJ, Anthony found it impossible to walk the 20 feet from his kitchen table to the garden gate. Cardiac myopathy make it extremely difficult for Anthony to breathe, let alone nurture the soil. A heart transplant in 2003 gave him his retirement years to dig, plant and nurture his garden, his spirit and his family.
His long journey to his second birthday began with chest pain in 1995. The diagnosis of congestive heart failure led to a slowly declining heart function. First, forced retirement, then a pacemaker in 1997. After innumerable visits to a local hospital emergency department, doctors told him to head to Beth Israel Medical Center which was more equipped to deal with his grossly enlarged heart. Breathing became more and more difficult.
By 2003, a transplant was his only choice for survival. Although his age—67— worked against him, his overall health was that of a much younger man. But before he was added to the waiting list, his family had to convince him a transplant was worth the risk.
“His doctors said he had two months to live,” explained his son, Jay. “ I told him, ‘Dad, die in bed in two months or try the transplant.’ There was no other decision in my mind. But my Dad was very sensitive to the fact that in order for him to live, someone else would have to die. His doctors said when a heart became available someone would receive it. Why not him?”
Anthony was hospitalized at Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, NJ in mid February 2003. Two false alarms preceded the actual transplants. Scared, anxious and confused, Anthony was convinced death was imminent. But at 2am on March 19th he was wheeled into surgery and now celebrates his successful transplant.
Quiet, unassuming and unbelievably fit, Anthony returns to the doctor every two months for a check up, and his new heart is biopsied every six months. His medication regimen, once 30 pills a day, is down to 15. And he is digging again in his garden, producing the flowers and vegetables which gave the Garden State its name.
Organ donation was not something Jay ever thought about prior to his father’s illness. Today, Jay said he wouldn’t hesitate to donate his own organs or those of a family member.
“Our experience made me realize just how important organ donation is. You are saving another person's life, plus it has an amazing impact on all the family and friends around the organ recipient,” said Jay. “I would not hesitate to donate my organs or even those of my wife and children because I know first hand how one family’s great tragedy can turn into a second chance at life for another family.
" I know first hand how one family's great tragedy can turn into a second chance at life for another family."
Four years after a life saving heart transplant, this is the story of Ryan Miller's journey to meet his heart donor's family for the first time. Filled with emotion, "One Heart" follows Ryan and his family while he was sick, before his trip, and during his trip. This film aims to raise awareness to the need for organ donation in the US and worldwide.
Click here to read more about the making of his film.
Ryan is a Trew friend, he generously donated his time and talents appearing in our new PSA and educational film "Connecting with Trew friends"
We often find inspiration and comfort from the life-giving stories of others. If you would like to share your family's story of organ donation, either as a recipient, donor or family member of a donor, please complete the form below. Only first names or initials will be used to protect the privacy of those individuals involved.