National Donate Life Month
NJ Sharing Network
Linden, NJ firefighter Mathew Pribish helped NJ Sharing Network kick off National Donate Life Month by sharing his personal heart transplant story to help raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation.
In New Jersey, there are nearly 4,000 residents currently waiting for a life-saving transplant, and one person in New Jersey dies every three days waiting for a transplant. Just one organ and tissue donor can save 8 lives and enhance the lives of over 75 people. Transplantable organs include heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and intestine. Transplantable tissue includes corneas, heart valves, skin grafts, and bone grafts, ligament and tendons. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit NJSharingNetwork.org.
A Personal Story from Mathew Pribish of the Linden Fire Department
My gift of life story started more than a decade ago when I went to the doctor for a regular cardiology checkup because heart disease runs in my family and I wanted to make sure that, as a firefighter, my heart was healthy. I was told during one of these regular checkups that I have Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, joints and other parts of the body.
In 2013, after being monitored for a few years, my aortic root was enlarged to the point that I needed replacement surgery. Although my surgery went well, I had an adverse reaction and went into advanced heart failure. The doctors made the decision to implant a Centrimag BiVad, an external device to pump both sides of my heart. After a couple of weeks, my heart healed enough to remove the device and implant an LVAD-Left Ventricular Assist Device. That was my lifeline for four years and I was placed on the New York heart transplant list.
Life with an LVAD isn’t easy and it was hard to adjust to at first – no swimming, limited showers, limited activities and lots of medication. Thankfully, with my family, my fire department family and my doctors, I was able to forge through into this new normal. I was able to return to work for the fire department as an Administrator and Fire Inspector. I started to walk/jog in local 5K events in a healthy condition so that I would be a perfect candidate for transplant.
In 2017, my cardiologist recommended that I also be put onto the New Jersey transplant list. In the time leading up to my approval on the New Jersey transplant list, the alarm of my LVAD device started to sound, on and off. The team of doctors decided that it was a mechanical issue and that they would either need to either replace the LVAD or hold me in the hospital for transplant.
On June 22, 2017, I was informed by Newark Beth Israel Medical Center that I was officially listed on the New Jersey list. It was just four days later that my wife got the phone call early in the morning. They said, “Mrs. Pribish, we found a heart for your husband.”
There were so many emotions that day. I felt happy and thankful that I now had hope that my health could be restored. I also felt a great deal of sadness for the family that lost their loved one. On June 27, 2017, I had a successful LVAD removal/Heart Transplant.
Since my transplant, I have been blessed to return to the life I had known before. In my donor’s memory, I decided to become a transplant advocate through NJ Sharing Network.
In Fall 2018, I was released by the doctors to return to full firefighting duties. On January 3, 2019, I officially returned to the fire department for my first day back at the position I left almost six years before.
I never thought that the day would come where I could return back to active duty. But thanks to my donor, my doctors, and NJ Sharing Network, this dream became a reality. I hope that my story can give hope to others that may need a transplant to inspire them to keep the faith.
About NJ Sharing Network
NJ Sharing Network is the federally designated non-profit organization responsible for recovering organs and tissue for the nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents currently waiting for a life-saving transplant. With headquarters in New Providence, NJ, the organization is part of the national recovery system, serving the 110,000 people on the national waiting list. NJ Sharing Network was selected by NJBiz as one of the state’s “Best Places to Work” for the third consecutive year. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit NJSharingNetwork.org.