FAIR LAWN, NJ - Recent Fair Lawn High School graduate Christopher Piccininni has received a $500 scholarship from NJ Sharing Network for his dedication to building awareness for organ donation.

Piccininni, now 18, was just nine weeks old when he was diagnosed with “dilated cardiomyopathy,” a condition which enlarged his heart, making it unable to pump enough blood. Piccininni’s only hope for survival was a heart transplant. 

After spending four months at Mt. Sinai Medical Center’s Pediatric ICU in New York City, he received a new heart, giving him a second chance at life.

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To show his gratitude, Piccininni and his family fundraise and advocate on the importance of organ and tissue donation. Every year, the Piccininni family hosts a “heart party” to celebrate his transplant anniversary, and guests contribute to the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Association (CCF) or the American Heart Association (AHA).

In middle school, Piccininni helped organize “Hoops for Heart,” a charity basketball tournament that raised money for AHA. Piccininni plans to attend the 2020 Donate Life Transplant Games and start at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark this fall.

Five other New Jersey high school students and advocates for organ donation received the scholarships for the 2019-2020 academic year, including Aashi Faldu, 19; Kayla Flanders, 18; Amelia Langan, 18; Devin Norton, 18; and Michael Snyder, 18.

NJ Sharing Network is based out of New Providence, NJ. The scholarships were presented by the organization’s Foundation family and partner funds: the Betsy Niles Scholarship Fund, in memory of Betsy Niles, a children’s book editor and lifelong Montclair resident whose organs were donated in 2011; Missy’s Miracle Scholarship Fund in celebration of Missy Rodriguez’s liver transplant; and the Hearts for Emma Partner Fund which supports high school education and donation advocacy efforts.

“This year’s NJ Sharing Network scholarship recipients are a unique group of young people dedicated to raising awareness of organ donation,” Joe Roth, President and CEO of NJ Sharing Network, said in a press release. “We know they will continue to make great strides when they start college this fall.”

Aashi Faldu, a John F. Kennedy High School graduate from Iselin, began supporting organ and tissue donation in middle school, as an office volunteer for NJ Sharing Network. When her father passed away in a car accident, although he was a registered donor, he was unable to donate his organs. Over the past five years, Faldu started a Donate Life Club, participated in two NJ Sharing Network 5K Celebration of Life events and hosted several fundraisers. She will be attending the University of Florida this fall where she is determined to create a Donate Life Club.

Kayla Flanders, a Rancocas Valley High School graduate, dedicated her high school years to spreading awareness about organ donation as a Student Advocate. After hearing a NJSN representative speak, she realized how little her driver’s education class addressed the topic. She started an advocacy program and spoke to over 800 students in driver’s education classes about organ and tissue donation. Flanders implemented plans that will continue to educate students at her high school after she goes to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia this fall.  She credits her plans to major in chemical biology to her curiosity about organ donation and her involvement with NJSN. 

Amelia Langan, a recent Morristown High School graduate, felt inspired to raise awareness about organ donation after learning about it in her driver’s education class.  She decided to start a Donate Life Club at her school, where members could volunteer with NJ Sharing Network and hear guest speakers from NJSN discuss the impact of organ donation. To expand the Donate Life Club beyond her own high school, Langan created an informational video on how someone can form a club at their own school. She devoted over 80 hours to volunteering with NJSN, and received her Girl Scout Gold Award – the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve. In the fall, she will major in behavioral neuroscience and minor in biochemistry at Northeastern University in Boston.

Devin Norton, a Manasquan High School graduate, became involved in organ donation after the passing of her childhood friend, Luke Bautista. Luke saved five people’s lives by donating his organs and improved the lives of over 100 others with tissue donation. For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Norton started a Donate Life Club in Luke’s honor. When she starts at UNC Wilmington in the fall, she will continue to honor her friend and educate others about organ and tissue donation. With over 60 members, Norton’s Donate Life Club participates in the NJ Sharing Network Celebration of Life 5K with the support of “Team Luke.” 

Michael Snyder, a graduate of Steinert High School in Hamilton Township, was born with kidney failure and has received three kidney transplants. His most recent transplant in 2017 was from an angel donor.  Snyder has spread the word about organ and tissue donation since he was very young. He was just five when he attended his first Donate Life Transplant Games and has participated in five Games since then. He went to the “Rally at the Capital” at the PA State House to support the Donate Life Act.  Snyder will attend Mercer County Community College in the fall and will advocate for organ and tissue donation awareness. 

In 2018, 678 life-saving transplants were made possible in New Jersey, 537 from deceased donors and an additional 141 from living donors. Today, there are nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents awaiting a life-saving transplant. Every day, approximately three people are added to the New Jersey waiting list, and one person dies every three days while waiting for a transplant. One organ donor can save eight lives and one tissue donor can restore health to over 75 people. New Jersey residents can help save lives by registering as organ and tissue donors, having a conversation with family and friends and getting involved at www.NJSharingNetwork.org.