Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Two Families Brought Together by Heart Donor

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Two Families Brought Together by Heart Donor

Article excerpt

POMPTON LAKES - It's been about two years since Thomas Eliezer received a life-saving heart transplant. Since then, the 47-year-old and his family have become very close to his donor's family.

This type of connection is uncommon, said Eliezer, who spoke at a NJ Sharing Network event recently with Gerry Mead, the widower of his heart donor, Barbara Mead.

The event recognized organ and tissue donors, transplant recipients, and members of the community who support the organization. The two told their stories in emotional speeches through tears and laughter. They remarked on their unique, and now strong friendship, and they urged support of organ donation and NJ Sharing Network. Barbara Mead was also recognized on what's known as the Landscape of Life.

Eliezer received a heart transplant after a major heart attack, heart failure and a serious of heart issues in the months that followed. He was in and out of the hospital 17 times, he said. He had an implanted defibrillator that malfunctioned, a valve replacement, and heart pumps that failed. His situation was so dire he remained at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center until a heart became available.

"My heart was so weak back then," Eliezer said. "I felt like I was dying. I had a team of five doctors and knew them all by name. Here I am, I had no color, I weigh 70 pounds less, I'm on my second pump that was failing, they just scheduled the open heart surgery."

On May 11 his Newark Beth Israel Medical Center doctors gave him the good news that a heart had become available.

"My brother started bawling and my wife started crying," he said. "Early morning they put it in and the next day I walked. It's just a miracle."

In the months that followed Eliezer was given the opportunity to reach out to his donor's family, which he did.

A letter from the Sharing Network notified Mead the man who had received his late wife's heart wanted to meet him.

"I said, of course. I said I would love to talk to him. This is what I've been looking for. It really made my holiday that year just knowing that this gentleman had a heart transplant from my wife and he's still living and everything is good."

Eliezer recalled their first phone conversation.

"I dropped everything," Eliezer said, who was driving at the time. "They said Gerry, the husband, signed all the paperwork. So I pulled over and I'm sitting in the parking lot crying. We both ended up crying. Just filled with emotion."

"I want you to know about the wonderful woman that gave her heart to you," Eliezer recalled Mead saying.

Eliezer, the father of two girls, learned his donor was a mom and she worked for a school system. There were 2,500 people at her funeral and Holly Glen Elementary School donated a garden in her honor, he said. The two men and their families would meet in January 2016, and since that time they have all been growing closer. …

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