Cathi Goldfischer of Fort Lee lives to donate. The blood and organ donor has been a member of the Fort Lee Ambulance Corps for 30 years, and she got her start with EMS at the age of 16. Goldfischer says she knows a number of people who have illnesses that will eventually require organ transplants, and she wants to tell those people that she would be happy to assist them if she is a match.
“I think being a part of EMS is that you’re just so interested in helping people,” Goldfischer said. “You see tragedy around you, and you recognize that out of that tragedy comes life. So many people can be saved by organ donation and it’s something that I felt passionate about for a number of years.”
Goldfischer was one of the veterans who returned for Fort Lee’s sixth annual Emergency Services Blood Drive last Friday at the Jack Alter Fort Lee Community Center. The event attracted both veteran and first-time donors.
According to Maria Vedoya, a registered nurse, 25 people had stopped by to donate blood by 5:00 p.m., but she said the annual blood drive attracted about 50 to 55 donors by the end of the day.
This year’s blood drive featured for the first time a chance for blood donors to sign up as organ donors as well. Fort Lee PBA delegate Frank Pantaleo said the new addition was inspired by Jessica Melore of the NJ Sharing Network.
“I met Jessica last year at a function where she was giving a speech,” Pantaleo said. “I became an organ donor after listening to her speech; not just because of her story, which was very moving, but because of the information she put out there.”
Melore was a senior in high school and the co-captain of her tennis team with no history of any major health problems. One night, she started to feel lightheaded and had chest pains. She suffered a massive heart attack at the age of just 16.
A blood clot was lodged in the artery leading to the left side of her heart, and it was completely blocking off blood flow. Doctors tried to remove the clot, but Melore was not expected to make it through the night.
Doctors turned to a heart transplant as a last resort to save Melore's life, and she wound up having to wait nine months for an available heart. During that time, doctors implanted a mechanical heart assisting device that pumped the left side of her heart and ran on batteries that needed charging every two to four hours. Doctors had to amputate her left leg above the knee because of complications from surgery.
Melore received the heart transplant a few days before her high school graduation.
“It’s so fulfilling to me because I didn’t know anything about donation before I was put on the waiting list,” Melore said. “I saw so many people die in the hospital who didn’t receive organs on time. If you were ever in that position of needing an organ or someone in your family needed one, you would hope someone out there had made that decision to become a donor.”
Although Melore says organ donation remains a sensitive topic for many, she believes life can result from tragedy.
“Organ donation is something that people don’t always think about because they might not want to think about death,” Melore said. “But it’s really about life. And it’s taking what could just be a tragic situation and having something positive come out of it.”
Fort Lee resident Lee Wasserman took the initiative to attend the joint blood and organ drive. He has a personal reason for donating blood every year.
“My brother was in a fatal car accident and they had to continuously give him blood,” Wasserman said. “Somebody might need it, and maybe the favor will be returned to me someday.”
Goldfischer says her family understands that her passion to help those in need is her life.
“It’s who I am, and it’s what I do,” she said. “I’ve always been self-sacrificing, and I don’t think there’s ever a greater feeling, knowing that you helped someone. And that’s why I’m here. I feel like a hero.”