NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The NJ Sharing Network awarded four New Jersey high school students scholarships this year at a recent reception held at their headquarters in their garden in New Providence.
Emma Rothman of Cranford and Varsha Garla of Marlboro received the Betsy Niles Scholarship. Max Prince of North Caldwell and Alex Sirubi of Allendale, received the Missy’s Miracle Scholarship.
Dan Sarnowski, Ms. Niles’ partner, presented the Betsy Niles Scholarship which is named after the children’s book editor whose donation of two kidneys on March 31, 2011, saved two lives. Missy Schwartz Rodriguez presented the Missy’s Miracle Scholarship which she established to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her liver transplant. Each scholarship is for $5,000, ($2,500 per semester).
Sarnowski said “there could have been thirty-seven recipients,” because each of the applicants had outstanding academic records. What set these four applicants apart was and continues to be their relentless effort to spread the word about organ donation. It’s something they know well. Organ donations have figured prominently in the four awardees’ lives and each sought to share their story to help educate the public on the importance of organ donations.
Emma Rothman was 12 when she found out she needed a heart transplant or “plant” as she called it then. She had suffered sudden heart failure due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She didn’t fully understand what was happening to her, but knew that after the surgery her life would never be the same. During Rothman’s 15-day recovery at the hospital, she learned more about her diagnosis and the dire outcome if she had not received a new heart.
During her recovery, Rothman noticed the amazing support system that was readily available for her and her family and was inspired. Less than five weeks later, Rothman participated in the NJ Sharing Network’s first annual 5K to honor her personal donor and has worked with them ever since.
She and her family also established the non-profit group Hearts for Emma which first offered families in the hospital a “meal plan,” so they could go out to eat. That was just the beginning, Sarnowski said. Now there is Emma’s closet, which provides a variety of toiletries for families in the hospital. Rothman also wrote, produced, and appeared in a video, “You Have The Power,” where she explains the importance of organ and tissue donation.
Varsha Garla’s inspiration came from the second chance her father received after learning there was a match for him and he would receive a new kidney. Before the surgery, Garla’s father struggled to complete the most basic tasks. She said she was ecstatic that her father would now be able to watch her dance performances. She was also sad when she learned that her father’s new kidney came from a teenage girl who lost her life in a car accident.
During her freshman year, Garla decided she would dedicate herself to raising awareness about organ transplants and became a certified volunteer. During her volunteer training, she learned one organ donor could help save eight lives and that the number of people on the transplant list is growing, with one person being added every 10 minutes.
Garla’s experience led her to speak at various events, write articles for the website “Curious Science Writers,” and, ultimately, to decide to become a doctor.
Max Prince was overjoyed at the thought of being a big brother to Sam, but his joy turned to worry when his family found out that Sam needed a new heart. This was devastating news to Prince and his family, especially since it required Sam to be isolated because of a weak immune system. After what seemed to be an endless wait, the Prince family received a phone call that a match was found and Sam received a new heart.
During Max’s Bar Mitzvah, not long after Sam’s heart transplant, Max decided he would create a team for NJ Sharing Network to help raise awareness and funds for the organization. During the last five years “Max’s Mitzvah Movers” has acquired hundreds of new team members and raised thousands of dollars for the organization.
Alexa Sirubi has a different story. Her father died after a heart attack four years ago, and the Sirubi family decided to say “yes” to organ and tissue donation. During the NJ Sharing Network’s Donors Remembrance Service, Alexa realized how the NJ Sharing Network “could turn pain into purpose,” as stated in her essay. She began her involvement in organ donation outreach in April 2015 by creating a team for the NJ Sharing Network 5K Race.
Sirubi said she felt that although high school students were provided with information about being organ donors more could be done, so she created a video that features experts in the field, organ donors and recipients. Sirubi’s video, has over 1,000 views on YouTube and was shown to her entire student body.
Sirubi said she will continue to spread awareness, her 2016 team raised thousands of dollars and her video will continue to be presented at her school, leaving a lasting legacy for her father.