At age 32 Westchester resident Janet Ocasio was a mother to three children and a successful hospital executive who started feeling run down. Her doctor told it was likely just stress and sent her home.
But things didn’t improve and soon Janet was unable to walk a block or play with her children without getting winded and needing a break. She returned to the doctor where she learned the devastating news that her liver was failing. She was told she only had 4-6 years to live.
“I was terrified to leave my children,” she said. “So I began doing research and went to see another doctor who sent me to be evaluated for a liver transplant.”
Janet was eventually listed for a new liver and began the long process of waiting for the call that would save her life. During this time, she explained what was happening to her children so they would be prepared for the worst.
“Being on the waiting list is like slow torture,” she said. “You know people are dying on that list every day and you know it could be coming for you. It’s like having a sledgehammer dangling over you at all times.”
After 14 long years, Janet got the call on October 8, 1998 that a there was a liver available. Her daughter drove her to Westchester Medical Center as they alerted their family. Janet was excited, but also nervous.
Janet woke up several hours later with a new liver and an overwhelming feeling of euphoria. She spent two and half weeks in the hospital and then was sent home. Her mother traveled from Puerto Rico to be with her and help her heal.
“I felt like I had been asleep for a long time and like I was finally waking up,” she said. “I felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude toward my donor and her family. Because of them, I’ve been able to watch my kids grow up and to be a grandma. I think of her as this amazing guardian angel.”
In the 20 years since her transplant, Janet has committed her life to raising awareness about the power of organ donation. She is an active member of the Westchester-based Transplant Support Organization and a volunteer with LiveOnNY. She also regularly visits some of the 10,000 New Yorkers who are currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant.
“I love to visit those who are waiting,” she said. “I hope seeing me gives them hope.”
Janet will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of her liver transplant by participating in Organ Donor Enrollment Day, a day focused on one goal: to enroll as many New Yorkers as possible as organ donors in a single day.
“I want to encourage others to register as organ donors so that people like me get a second chance at life,” she said. “My transplant saved my life, but it also saved my children from being orphans and gave me a chance to be there for them. It has been the greatest gift of my life.”
To learn more about organ donation and Organ Donor Enrollment Day, please visit liveonny.org.