Two families tied together by one heart


This is a special story - One heart and two families, whose lives have changed forever. New Jersey Native, Victor 'Michael' Startek died suddenly at age 27. Now his heart lives on, but in the chest of another man.

“Yes, this is my man, my man.” This is Deborah, Michael’s mother, who has long awaited to hear the sound of her sons heart beat again.

She reminisces on the day, "I walked out here and I saw him, we hugged, I listened to my son's heartbeat. I didnt hear another person in the room, I had since that day such an inner peace."

The recipient of Victor Michael’s heart and kidney finally got to meet his donor’s family, just days before the third anniversary of his transplant.

"It had taken me over a year. We had been talking for probably over a year and then we finally agreed to meet in person. I was so nervous - I even cancelled a few times I didnt know how I would feel when I saw him."

With the gentle care and compassion of the Ne Jersey Sharing Network, Michael’s mom mustered up the courage to meet her new lifeline, Vernell Williams.

Vernell also shared his concerns, "I wasn't sure I could do it. What do I say to them? I struggled with that. How could someone have to die in order for me to live on? I'm telling you, it was hard.”

Currently, there are almost over 114,000 people nationally wating for an organ transplant. In New Jersey alone, there are close to 4,000 people. Each day, an average of 20 people die waiting for an organ transplant. This man, Vernell, was lucky enough to fight that stunning statistic -All thanks to Michael, who had the heart to give his heart.

Vernell adds, "Without transplantation, I would not be here right now. I would not be here, but thanks to Deborah and her son."

Vernell spent six months in a hospital bed uncertain what tomorrow would bring, just before he found his miracle.

He adds, "They told me I would have to wait because I have a rare blood type. I waited for six months. I was on the list, off the list, on and off. At one point, I got too ill and they said you don't have the strength for the transplant. You could die."

Vernell met his donor’s family at the organization’s Annual 5k Walk, ‘The Celebration of Life’. The entire process of setting up their first meeting was coordinated by the help of the Sharing Network.

Deborah describes the organization as kind, compassionate and understanding. "They were professional, but were also compassionate to our feelings. They helped us every step of the way, we knew this is what Michael would have wanted.”

As they say at the Sharing Network, the donor process begins long before the time of the transplant. The miracle is created once a family agrees to organ and tissue donation.

A spokesperson of the organization explains that the process begins "long before we even find recipients, because to me a family that says yes to organ donation, gives me hope in humanity. Despite the tragedy that this family is going through, they are making the decision to help a total stranger. "

Deborah adds, "we lost our wonderful son, but its like hes not completely gone. To know that his legacy kind of continues, because he gave life and whats better than life?"

They are now total strangers, who now consider themselves family.

I witnessed Vernell and Deborah having a heart to heart. He told her, "I want you to know that Michael's memory will always live on! Trust me I guarantee it. There are some things in the plan, wont tell you what, but it is coming."

Deborah responds, "I always say, it's like Michael picked you except he is a Giants fan and you're a Cowboys fan, so I dont know about that part!"

Today it is somebody else's family member that needs a transplant, but tomorrow it could be somebody you love or know that will need an organ. The New Jersey Sharing Network is responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue throughout the state and have helped save so many families, just like Vernell’s. For the full segment that aired on television, check out the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e7JGax9vE4

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