Vice President, Founding Member, Harboring Hearts Housing, Inc.
When and how did you become a member of www.nycinv.com?
I became a member in 2009. I do a lot of advocacy and public speaking on behalf of heart disease, cancer, and organ donation, as well as attend other charity events with friends. It was an easy resource to find out about great causes and fun events happening in the city.
How do you balance your career and giving back so successfully?
For me, it’s a matter of making what I’m passionate about a priority in my life. Fortunately in my career I can promote organ and tissue donation on a daily basis, but helping others cope with the effects of heart disease and promoting prevention is also very important to me. I dedicate certain evenings and time during the weekends for Harboring Hearts and my other advocacy work, and schedule calls on my morning commute. Aside from that, charity events also offer a great opportunity to get together with friends and support a great cause at the same time.
Does Haboring Hearts have any fund raising events planned before New Years?
Harboring Hearts is preparing for several events in November/December: a shopping event at the Jesse James store in NYC, a shopping event at Ooh La La Boutique in Long Island, and potentially a community event for heart patients in NYC hospitals. We're also gearing up for our annual Young Professionals event, which should take place hopefully in February. We had a sold out event last year, and will be posting up-to-date information on our website, www.harboringhearts.org.
How have your experiences with the charities you support changed your outlook on your own life?
As a heart attack survivor at age 16 and heart transplant recipient at 17, the experience made me realize that no one is immune to heart disease, even when you are young, healthy, active, and have no history of health problems. Working with Harboring Hearts has given me the opportunity to help other families in similar situations find affordable temporary housing so that they can be near their loved ones during treatment. That kind of support makes all the difference in the healing process. Our work is a constant reminder of how many people are greatly in need of our help.
How common is it to be a heart recipient at such a young age?
In 1999, the year I was transplanted, there were 251 heart transplants for recipients age 17 and younger (11% of all heart transplants performed that year). In 2009, there were 358 age 17 and younger (16% of heart transplants). To date, there have been 6,126 heart transplants from infants to age 17 (12.5% of heart transplant population). While it represents a smaller percentage, many people don't realize how many young recipients there are--even from the infant stage--and this doesn't account for the other transplanted organs.
Do you have any contact with your donor's family?
I have been in contact with my donor family. My donor was an 18-year-old girl named Shannon. The process is initially kept anonymous, but I wrote a letter to the family after my transplant, saying how much their decision had profoundly affected my life. I heard back from them a year later, and they saw my story on a Dateline episode my freshman year in college. We've kept in touch over email ever since. The very exciting news is that my donor is being honored on this year's Donate Life Rose Parade Float on New Year's Day. She'll be featured on a "floragraph", which is an image of her face composed entirely of roses. I should be meeting the mother of my donor for the first time in the next couple of months.
What would you say to those considering organ donation?
The greatest compliment I could ever receive is if someone signs up to be an organ and tissue donor after hearing my story. Whenever I discuss organ donation, I tell people to imagine if someone in their family needed a transplant in order to survive. They'd hope that there was someone out there would made the decision to be a donor when they passed. I didn't know anything about organ and tissue donation before I needed a heart transplant, and it opened my eyes to the critical need. There are lot of myths perpetuated by Hollywood--that your medical treatment won't be as good, but working at my current job alongside clinical staff that is in the hospitals daily, I've learned it's the exact opposite. They want you to be in the best condition in order to be a donor. The bottom line is, thousands of people die needlessly each year when we have the capacity to save them--if more people registered to be donors. You can register at www.donatelife.net.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
My parents are the reason I’m here today. I think watching someone go through a traumatic event is much harder than experiencing it yourself, and their strength is unimaginable. I was so grateful that they were there to support me and encourage me to continue pursuing my ambitions, even in midst of uncertainty as I waited for a heart transplant.
Many people want to do their part for those in need, but don’t know the best way to go about it. What would your advice be to them?
There are many ways to support a cause. Especially in tough economic times, many charities are in need of funding, so attending a charity event or making a donation, along with matching company donations, can go a long way. Charities like Harboring Hearts are always looking for volunteers to help forge partnerships or assist at community and fundraising events.
About Jessica / Favorites:
Favorite NYC charity event(s)? Harboring Hearts’ annual Young Professionals Gala, Charity:Water, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society events
City? New York (of course)
Travel Destination? Costa Rica, China, Greece
Hotel? Ace Hotel
Restaurant? Buttermilk Channel
Museum or gallery? Dalí Museum in Spain
Book? The Shadow of the Wind
Artist? Arcade Fire
Top 3 songs?
“Rebellion (Lies)”-Arcade Fire,
“Postcards from Italy” –Beirut,