Thousands of New Jersey residents are awaiting organ transplants, but sadly for many the wait will prove to be longer than their bodies can fight. This article is the third in a series inspired by a lifelong Warren resident who underwent two separate transplant procedures, as well as an open heart operation, in just one year. We hope you may be encouraged to learn more about organ donation – maybe even to register as a donor yourself.
Patients at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Berkeley Heights have been seeing a friendly new face around their facility since September. His name is Mark Heuvelman, and he can relate to them thanks to his own inspiring health history. Mark, a Warren Township resident, was once told he had only weeks to live. But thanks to the miracle of organ donation, and the generosity of donors and their families, two years later he’s helping patients in Autumn Lake’s nursing home/subacute care setting. As Case Manager/Clinical Care Liaison, he meets with patients prior to their discharge from other medical centers to determine if they’re candidates for admittance to Autumn Lake, and then helps with their transition when they arrive.
“I like to say that I’m a ‘working patient’ because of my life experience,” he says. “I know what’s best for patients in terms of what’s next after the hospital, as well as helping them get through the day-to-day.”
Mark was diagnosed with liver failure in May 2018, at only 32 years old. While he was awaiting a liver transplant, he slipped into a coma but battled his way back. When the transplant was complete, the toll his condition had taken on his renal system finally overwhelmed his kidneys – leading to the need for another transplant procedure. A final surgery to correct the heart condition that had caused his gradual liver failure in the first place followed, and in the space of a little more than 12 months he’d gone from a terminal diagnosis to newfound health and hope. With that came a new sense of purpose: to live each day to its fullest, and pay it all forward.
"I came through those procedures with an appreciation for the little things in life - knowing that every day I'm alive is a good day," Mark says. "I knew that I needed to look forward, not backward, and not worry about things I couldn't change."
This Spring, whether you’re interested in becoming a donor yourself, or just becoming better educated on the process of organ donation, Donate Life America (donatelife.net) has set aside opportunities for you to do just that:
February 14th: National Donor Day
April 17th: National Donate Life “Blue and Green” Day
The entire month of April: National Donate Life Month
National Pediatric Transplant Week: April 19th – 25th
And later in the year, August will mark the first-ever National Minority Donor Awareness Month.
Mark Heuvelman is living proof that organ donation results from miracles at both ends of the process: the miracle of generosity when a person fills out their donor card, and the miracle of life when that generosity allows someone a second chance at life. “When I lost my health, all I wanted was to have it back,” he says. “Now I never take anything for granted, and I constantly pray for, and thank, the donors and their families for this second chance at life.”