Berkeley Heights liver transplant recipient is donor educator

By Independent Press

May 18, 2010, 3:39PM

When Jim Rhatican, 66, of Berkeley Heights, walked into Millburn High School each school day for nearly four decades, his mission was teaching students how to become great writers, speakers and communicators. For 37 years, he taught thousands of young people English and journalism and even served as advisor for the school’s newspaper - The Miller.

That commitment to his students extended beyond the classroom as well. He coached Millburn High School’s football team for almost 30 years and served as the girls softball coach for 16.

He retired in 2004, and today, Rhatican has a different message for students. As a liver transplant recipient, he volunteers for the NJ Sharing Network and now gives students an early introduction to the importance of organ donation.

“I thought students would be somewhat squeamish to the idea, but they have actually been rather receptive,” he says.

In January, Rhatican began volunteering for the NJ Sharing Network — a nonprofit, federally-designated organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for New Jersey residents in need of life-saving transplants.

As part of the organization’s recognition of National Donate Life Month, which is celebrated each April, he manned an organ donor registration table for two days at UMDNJ-University Hospital. Six people registered to become organ donors during that time.

Their kindness had special meaning for the married father of three and grandfather of five: Rhatican had liver transplant surgery at University Hospital in 2008.

“I can’t say enough about the treatment I received,” he recalled. “I didn’t run into one person who looked at it as just a job.”

Jim Rhatican knows that he is among the fortunate, having waited just two months for a liver. His journey with liver disease actually began in February 2008, during a routine colonoscopy, when a doctor noticed that he appeared to have jaundice. That observation led to months of tests and a diagnosis of liver disease by the Division of Liver Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery, Department of Surgery, at UMDNJ-The University Hospital in September 2008. His liver transplant surgery on Dec. 27, 2008 lasted eight hours.

“I came home on New Year’s Day 2009,” Rhatican remembers. “But for me, it was more than a new year, it was a new life. I am very grateful.”

UMDNJ-The University Hospital is a university medical center and the principal teaching hospital for University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School. Located in the Central Ward of Newark, the hospital offers care across many medical specialties. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university.

For information about donation and transplantation in the state, call 1-800-SHARE-NJ or email To register as an organ and tissue donor, visit or your local motor vehicle agency.