CRANFORD, NJ - At 16, Emma Rothman of Cranford plays competitive volleyball. She goes to school. She hangs out with her friends. Today, the heart transplant she received four years ago is just one small part of her busy and very normal life. 

“If you saw Emma you would never know she had a heart transplant,” said her mother, Nancie. “But she knows — and we know — she received the greatest gift of all… the Gift of Life.”

The community of supporters that rallied around Emma four years ago during her heart transplant journey inspired the Rothman family to create Hearts for Emma, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that helps families of children with heart disease, including transplant candidates and recipients. Hearts for Emma supports families at the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and NJ Sharing Network.

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Recently, Hearts for Emma began a partnership withthe NJ Sharing Network Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to increasing the number of lives saved through organ and tissue donation. The two organizations are working together to educate high school students. The partnership already has led to the creation and distribution of 25,000 engaging educational pamphlets, “You Have The Power to Save Lives,” which describes the life-saving gifts of organ and tissue donation and features the lives of recipients. A DVD is currently being developed to accompany the pamphlet.

The educational materials will support the New Jersey Hero Act, which requires public schools in New Jersey to include information about organ and tissue donation in the health and physical education curriculum.

The partnership with Hearts for Emma and the NJ Sharing Network Foundation will support the creation of powerful tools to help New Jersey high schools educate their students about the life-saving gifts of organ and tissue donation,” said Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation and Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of NJ Sharing Network. “We are excited about this partnership and the opportunity to reach young people in our state.”

Supporters of Hearts for Emma also will participate as a team at NJ Sharing Network 5K Celebration of Life Walk and USATF Certified Race in New Providence on June 7. This is the team’s 5th time participating in the event; Emma participated in her first walk just 11 weeks after her transplant. 

More than 8000 people are expected at the event, many of them touched in some way by organ and tissue donation. Transplant recipients, donor families, living donors, those waiting for a transplant as well as community, hospital and corporate sponsors will participate. The theme is: To Honor. To Remember.To Give Hope.

Many of the people at the 5K Celebration of Life have poignant and powerful stories to share, including Emma.

Her health crisis began quickly on the morning of March 28, 2011, when her family, thinking she had mononucleosis, arranged a routine blood test at Newark Beth-Israel Medical Center. They had plans for breakfast after the medical visit. Despite having no obvious symptoms, Emma went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, where she was put on life-support under an induced coma. 

Emma was fighting end-stage heart failure brought about by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and by the next morning her family understood she needed an immediate heart transplant.

She was soon listed on the transplant list as medication and technology kept her alive. Seventeen hours after she was listed the family learned a heart was available, an extraordinary turn of events. When Emma woke up, her mother and her father, Mark,and transplant doctors told her she received a heart transplant. 

It was during those stressful days that Emma’s older sister, Keri, doodled the image of two hearts that is the organization’s logo today.

Emma has said her way of giving thanks for her gift of life is to help other young people and families facing similar crises, and by sharing her story to spread awareness about organ and tissue donation.

"I was given something that you can't really ever repay,” she said. “You can't really give that back, so I guess we are doing little things that mean the world to other people.”

To sign up for NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Celebration of Life, to start or join a team, and to learn more about the event and sponsorship opportunities, please visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.