SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ - This will be the third year in a row that Maureen Bocknack will proudly serve as a team captain at NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Celebration of Life Walk and USATF Certified Race, to be held Sunday, June 7, in New Providence.
For Bocknack, it is the ideal chance to connect with the families and friends of those who have generously donated organs and tissue to help others, as well as to give hope to people now on the waiting list for life-saving organs and tissue.
Bocknack, of the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, has a very powerful and personal story to tell.
Four of her family members have become organ and tissue donors over the past 14 years.
At every challenge, her family made the decision to give the gift of life, prompting her to form “Team Alpha Omega” for the upcoming 5K Celebration of Life event.
“I named the team ‘Alpha Omega’ because there is no end to life through organ and tissue donation,” she said, noting it is all-encompassing, with “Alpha” at the beginning of the Greek alphabet and “Omega” at the end. “This is about perpetuity of life, and about the special bond my family has to organ and tissue donation.”
The connections began with her twin sister, Michelle, who had a tragic fall and died in Wildwood in June, 2001.
She ultimately saved the lives of five others through organ donation.
A few years later, her father, Michael Bocknack, affectionately known as “Big Mike,” passed away in June 2011, donating his corneas through the program.
And her cousin, Tommy Sudano, Jr., who died in July, 2013, also donated his organs and tissue, going to five other people.
Another cousin, Dawn Sudano, a mother of two boys, died February 27, and her organs and tissue were donated to save the lives of at least five others.
Since her sister made her selfless gift, Bocknack has been a dedicated volunteer for NJ Sharing Network, as she juggles life as a single mom with two jobs and two boys at home.
Bocknack generously shares her story at various NJ Sharing Network outreach events, reiterating the key message that families and friends should have candid discussions about organ and tissue donation, ensuring they are registered and their wishes are known.
Bocknack recalls a conversation with her sister in 2001, just months before she died.
She said they were in the kitchen of their mother’s house, and their mom wanted to have a serious discussion about end-of-life planning.
“My sister, without hesitation said, ‘I want to donate my organs,’ ” Bocknack recalled. “My mom said, ‘Michelle, you are too young to be thinking like that.’ She replied, ‘Well, I am an organ donor on my license and I want to donate my organs. What would I need them for if I’m gone? Let someone who needs them use them.’ ”
“We didn’t think anything of it or realize the power behind those words,” Bocknack said, adding that knowing her sister’s desire to donate was so important when the family learned she was brain dead. “I encourage others to have the conversation, to make their wishes known. Because there is such tragedy in organs and tissue that are left unused, when they could save or enhance the lives of others.”
Bocknack has 14 team members signed up for the June 7 event, and is actively recruiting more participants and more supporters.
Her older son, Sean, and his friends are on the team, as well as others who enjoy the camaraderie of the annual event.
Bocknack said she looks forward to the event to share her story and hear from other donor families. “We all know why we are there,” she said. “Some have experienced loss and know what it is like to be grieving. We feel better sharing with one another. I can’t describe the feeling I get from helping others.”
She also tries to keep in close contact with her family’s organ and tissue recipients.
“I want them to know that although we aren't able to talk all the time or because we haven't met yet, doesn't mean we aren't thinking about them,” Bocknack said. “They are in our thoughts and I am beyond words knowing they got a second chance.”
“I am inspired by the generosity of spirit and enthusiasm from Maureen,” said Elisse Glennon, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of NJ Sharing Network and the Executive Director of the Foundation. “We are so thankful to Maureen and the many others who volunteer their time and share their stories to spread awareness about how organ and tissue donation truly transforms lives.”
As a trained volunteer for NJ Sharing Network, Bocknack has worked at information tables at various events to spread the word of organ and tissue donation.
She has also shared her story at medical conferences, donor recognition ceremonies and schools and is now serving on the 5K Celebration of Life Steering Committee for the second year.
“I have a Donate Life tattoo on my wrist, so a lot of people ask me about it wherever I go,” she said. “It is a conversation starter and also gives me an opportunity to share my story.”
“I am happy that my sister gave me purpose and something positive in my life,” Bocknack added. “Even though she is not physically here, she is cheering me on along the way. It is truly amazing to share her story, as well as the stories of my dad, my two cousins, and I also have a dear friend who is planning to give the gift of life as a living donor.”
To sign up for the 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.