In death, Howell man helped the lives of dozens of others, paying it forward

JoAnn Sos of Howell, NJ, has made it her personal mission to inspire others to register as organ and tissue donors. Her first-hand experience in supporting her husband Wayne during the process of receiving a life-saving lung transplant changed her life forever. Several years later, she faced unbearable loss when Wayne passed away on June 25, 2019. While her heart was shattered, it gave her peace to know that a special part of Wayne will continue to live on thanks to his selfless decision to register as an organ and tissue donor.

According to NJ Sharing Network, there are nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents currently waiting for a life-saving transplant, and one person in New Jersey dies every three days waiting for a transplant. Just one organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 people. To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.

The following story was written by JoAnn to detail her inspiring journey and help support NJ Sharing Network’s life-saving mission.

In 2015, my husband Wayne was diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – a life threatening episode, the severity of which very few survive. He was intubated as his lungs were completely filled with fluid.

At that time, Wayne was given little chance to live. He was placed in an induced coma hoping for the lungs to heal. Two weeks later, he had a tracheostomy and was placed on a ventilator. He remained hospitalized for a total of nine weeks. The lungs slowly improved. Nine weeks later in June, he was going to be removed from the ventilator and we would pray for the best. He opened his eyes and spoke. They said it was a miracle that he was alive.

The next few weeks, we remained in LTC while he learned to swallow and eat again. Unfortunately, Wayne became oxygen dependent and was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis for which there is no cure. We knew that transplant would be his only option for survival.

After attending a pulmonary support group meeting, a member of the group offered us the contact number for the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center lung transplant team. I made the call explaining that my husband was very ill. After they reviewed my husband’s prognosis and volumes of his medical records, they admitted him for testing. They could not believe Wayne was alive thanks to his determination. Wayne was never a quitter, and the medical team agreed that if anyone was going to pull through, it would be Wayne.

It was the day after Christmas and Wayne looked at me and said, “I’m done, I can’t breathe.” My answer was, “No! You are on the transplant list!”

That night, he stopped breathing and was put on ECMO machine. But I soon received his life-saving call – we had a donor match. It was a miracle! An organ donor was giving my husband the gift of life. The next morning, Wayne was in surgery for 8-1/2 hours. Following a double heart bypass and single lung transplant, he was alive!

While in the hospital, I saw many heart and lung transplant recipients walking the hallways. What miracles to see! From this experience, I learned that here are no guarantees in this life, only HOPE. Hope that someone would give the gift of life. There is no greater gift.

On June 25, 2019, Wayne passed away. Before he died, he made it clear that he wanted to give others the gift of life. Thanks to his selfless decision and the work of the NJ Sharing Network team, lives were saved and enhanced from his tissue and cornea donations. I know from personal experience the amazing feeling those families had when they received that long-awaited call and heard the words ‘We have a match.’

Now, I feel it is my mission to speak on behalf of my husband, my hero, and all those that have given the gift of life. Wayne is looking down on me and saying, “I’m proud of you – just do it.”

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