Boy Scout Troop 177's Senior Patrol Leader Nick Corrente, 17, and Assistant Senior Patrol Leader Rigel Turdiu, 17, tying a green ribbon on a tree in Lake Hiawatha to promote organ donor awareness.
By Cindy Forrest
"Donate Life" — powerful words behind an equally powerful project designed to save lives through organ donation. According to Share NJ, one donor can save or enhance more than 50 lives.
April is National Donate Life Month, a time when scouts and civic organizations across the country work to get the word out about organ donation.
Locally, the push for organ donation awareness is a lot more personal. Parsippany resident Nick Cerbo, 78, received a heart donation 15 years ago. Heart disease ran in his family so it wasn’t really a surprise when at age 48 he needed by-pass surgery. The repair lasted for 16 years.
Then a few days after Thanksgiving in 1996, Cerbo suffered a massive heart attack. The stars all aligned that day to save Cerbo’s life. He was taken by helicopter to Morristown Memorial Hospital and then on to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he was stabilized and put on the list for a new heart. Because his condition was so extreme he went to the top of the list.
"That’s how it is," said Cerbo. "You’re there waiting either to get a heart or to die."
Since he was in good physical shape and didn’t need building up before the surgery, Cerbo was a candidate for a heart that came from a wider geographical location. A big plus since there is a window of only four to five hours between the surgery to extract the heart from the donor and the surgery to place it in a recipient.
A heart became available between snow storms two months later in January. A doctor flew to upstate New York, checked the heart, declared it a match and flew with it back to the city. Little known at the time, Dr. Mehmet Oz performed the successful surgery. After his recovery, Cerbo was told to, "Go home and lead a normal life." He now works with the Scouts and other organizations to get the word out about organ donation.
Recently the Boy Scouts from Troop #177 spent an evening "decorating" the trees in Lake Hiawatha with ribbons that are green, the color of organ and tissue donation awareness. Putting their hearts and souls into the project, the Scouts said they were out there for the cause and for Cerbo.
"The boys all know Mr. Cerbo," explained Jerry Corrente Troop #177 Scoutmaster, "and they’re happy to do this for him."
Cerbo, a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, was key in getting the organization to sponsor the troop.
Nick Corrente, a six-year member of the troop said, "We like to help Mr. Cerbo, he helps us out all the time."
Four-year troop veteran Rigel Turdiu added, "It’s a good cause and that’s what Boy Scouts is all about."
In addition to hearts, donors can also give lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, corneas, skin, bone and tendons to those in need.
The Kiwanis Club of Greater Parsippany promotes the project to its membership and through its "K" Kids, Builders Club and Key Clubs, by having student club members decorate the schools with green ribbons.
Also supporting the project are the Women’s Club of Parsippany-Troy Hills and the Transplant Support Group of Greater Morris County.
The township’s libraries will be decorated in green ribbons and information about the donor program will be available in the lower level of the main branch of the library.
"We’re so grateful," said Cerbo’s daughter, Cathy. "The town has really embraced this."
Town hall also will be adorned with the identifying green ribbons with the blessing of the mayor.
"I’ve know Mr. Cerbo for many years," said Mayor Jamie Barberio, "He’s an icon, a great man. I’m glad that he’s here with us and I’m glad to be of help to an organization that saves lives."
The green ribbon campaign in Parsippany is in its 12th year and the hope is that the awareness campaign is taking root. Since there is no "on the spot" sign-up, it’s hard to gauge the response.
"What we are doing is making people aware and hoping that they’ll sign up for it," said Cathy Cerbo.
Throughout the year, organizations such as the New Jersey Sharing Network, a non-profit that provides a link between donors and recipients, offers information on organ donation.
Locally the Transplant Group is open to those who have had organ transplants and those on waitlists and their families. As of March 15 there were 106,456 Americans on the transplant waiting list and 4,598 of them are New Jersey residents. Each day 18 people die waiting for a transplant.
To sign up, just say "yes" to organ donation every time that you apply for or renew your New Jersey driver’s license. For more information on organ donation, call the Sharing Network at 800-SHARE-NJ or check the Web site at www.sharenj.org. For more information about the Transplant Support Group of Greater Morris County New Jersey, contact Betty at firstname.lastname@example.org