Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Biker Pedals to Aid Transplant Patient

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Biker Pedals to Aid Transplant Patient

Article excerpt

FORT LEE -- When borough resident Johnny Damato underwent a successful heart transplant last June, the family was overwhelmed with jubilation.

But they soon realized the physical and financial stresses would not end there.

Transplant-related expenses often soar in excess of $500,000, according to the national Children's Organ Transplant Association, for which Damato's family and friends are raising funds. They hope to raise $100,000.

To that end, Fort Lee resident Max Almenas is racing in next weekend's Gran Fondo, a 105-mile cycling competition running through New York and New Jersey, on behalf of Damato. Almenas, a website designer and social media strategist for Strictly Bicycles in Fort Lee, has set a goal of raising $15,000 and has gotten about $2,000 in pledges thus far.

When selected by the Fort Lee Chamber of Commerce to represent the borough in the Gran Fondo and asked to pick a charity, Almenas chose to ride in honor of Damato, whom he'd met when the high schooler -- who was born with congenital heart disease -- organized a blood drive and bone marrow registration drive in Fort Lee last October.

"I was so inspired by his maturity and his willingness to raise awareness for organ transplant," Almenas said. "Here's a kid, 16 years old ... he got over 200 people from town to come down to give blood and sign up to be an organ donor."

Rita Damato, Johnny's mother, said part of the goal is to raise awareness that for families of organ-transplant patients, the stresses don't end once the operation is done. There are the medical checkups, the never-ending assortment of pills to take, the side effects. And if the body rejects a new medication, patients can find themselves rushed back to the emergency room.

"Getting a new heart is an amazing gift, but it's the start of a new journey," Rita Damato said. "The medical crises are not over, and the medical needs are not over. …

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