Sparta organ recipient to toe the line at Sharing Network's 5K

PHOTOS BY LAURIE GORDON The family of Betsey Niles, a mother who died after being struck by a van in March 2011, honored her legacy with a “floragraph” on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day. Her partner of 10 years, Dan Sarnowski, of Sparta, (left) holds the floragraph and is the chair of this weekend's annual NJ Sharing Network's Celebration of Life 5k.

SPARTA--This Sunday, Allison Ognibene of Sparta will be one of thousands of people participating in the NJ Sharing Network's Annual 5K Celebration of Life Walk/Run in New Providence. Behind the scenes, Dan Sarnowski, also of Sparta, has been a huge part of planning the event for months leading into this year and for years to help keep the event going strong. Ognibene and Sarnowski each have a powerful reason to support this event because each has seen first hand how organ transplants save lives.

Sunday's 5K (3.1 miles) brings together thousands of walkers, runners and volunteers to honor those who gave the gift of organ or tissue, pay tribute to those who have a received a transplant, offer hope to those waiting for a transplant and remember those who passed away while waiting for the gift of life. The NJ Sharing Network is responsible for organ procurement for most of the NJ area.

When Ognibene was a freshman in high school, at Pope John XXIII, she was diagnosed with a disease called Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH). She explains it as the blood vessels in her pulmonary artery thickened and constricted blood flow so she wasn’t getting enough oxygen in her lungs.

“My heart was working hard, but the blood was not being oxygenated,” she explained. “I always talk about a grape and how full it is. My lungs were like raisins, shriveled. Basically, I couldn’t breathe, I was tired, I was placed on oxygen, and as the disease progressed, my lips were blue, I was in a wheel chair because I didn't have the energy to walk.” The school and community stood behind Ognibene. “They were phenomenal at the school in making me feel welcome,” she said, “The students in both Pope John and Sparta High did fundraisers, and Pope John worked with my illness while providing an excellent education for me. In fact, the entire town of Sparta was so supportive of me and raised the necessary funds so I could get the surgery. This is before health insurance would recognize that the surgery was NOT experimental.” Continue reading 
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