NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -  A press conference for the one-year countdown to the 2020 Donate Life Transplant Games of America was held last week at the NJ Sharing Network in New Providence.

The 2020 Donate Life Transplant Games will be held in New Jersey July 17-22, 2020 with opening ceremonies to be held at the Prudential Center in Newark; Transplant Donation Tribute to be held at NJPAC; games held at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, Berkeley Aquatic Center in New Providence and Galloping Hill Golf Club in Kenilworth and Union. The promotional video said, "We are doing it bigger, louder, bolder -- more people, more coverage and more exposure. -- Let the games begin!"

Elisse Glennon, NJ Sharing Network Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, welcomed the packed conference room filled with participants, donor families, event sponsors and coordinators, medical professionals, caregivers, staff and volunteers. Also in attendance were dignitaries including East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella, Union County Freeholder Chris Hudak, Elizabeth Stamler and Sharing Network Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Hedden and his wife Joan, Past Chairman Howard Nelson and Treasurer Ciro Scalera.  

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"On behalf of our Board of Trustees and our 180 employees that dedicate everyday to saving lives, we are thrilled to see you all here today," said Glennon. "Whatever your story that brought you here today, each of you are part of the Sharing Network family and you are what makes this place so special." 

The NJ Sharing Network went to bid for New Jersey to be the home of the 2020 games back in 2016. "We knew it would be a huge undertaking -- we knew the rewards would be immeasurable," said NJ Sharing Network CEO Joe Roth.  "We are confident the 2020 games will be the largest in Transplant Games of America history. -- We are tremendously proud to host the monumentous occasion, not just because we know what it means to the transplant community, but also it will be held in one of the busiest areas in the country -- allowing us to share our life saving message with a much wider audience." He added, "[We] couldn’t host the event without our hospital partners, Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group and RWJBarnabas Health."

Lead partners include Novartis, Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJBarnabas Health, American Dream and Meadowlands Live! Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The decision to bid for an event of this magnitude is a "leap of faith" -- aligning partnerships, raising funds, establishing leadership roles and responsibilities is a daunting task, said Bill Ryan, President and CEO of Transplant Life Foundation [the organizing body for the Transplant Games of America]. Selecting venues, rallying thousands of volunteers and promoting participation -- "over the course of the last 18 months, you have proven beyond a doubt that New Jersey is ready, willing, and able to make these transplant games special," he said. 

Next July, 44 teams from across the county will arrive to promote the mission of the games, including host Team Liberty -- and its counterpart Team Gotham, who had members in attendance at the kick-off event. The goal is to increase the number of individuals willing to join the national and local donor registry. 

Sam Prince, a heart transplant recipient, said, "Without donor donation, I probably would not be standing here. -- To all the donor families out there, thank you very much for giving me the second chance of life."

"A majority of my childhood -- I could not walk down the street without getting out of breath and tired," he said. He was born with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome. "March 13, 2011, everything changed forever -- I got the call at 8:58 p.m. -- I got a heart transplant -- [it] really was the greatest gift, you can’t replace it." 

Prince, now 17 years old, said because of his transplant, everything changed forever. "I can play basketball, run on the street, hang out with my friends -- and finally think about my future. I owe this all to my amazing selfless donor."  -- "Ultimately, we are here to spread the word about organ donation and transplantation and save lives."  

Janice Campbell spoke on behalf of donor families."The Transplant Games is an awesome heartfelt and joyous event through which I have seen a lot of the recipients show their gratitude to the donor families," said Campbell, whose daughter gave the gift of life through organ donation to six families. "They show their gratitude through  living and enjoying life and enjoying the second chance they are given. I am just so proud of the donor families who give and I'm proud of the gratitude we get from the recipients." 

There are many more life saving stories like Prince and Campbell. "This event will change you," said Judy Ross, Vice President of Meadowlands Chamber. She attended last year's games in Salt Lake City and said, "You look at the world a little differently," after seeing the smiling faces of the athletes at the Donor Tribute ceremony. "They have a deeper appreciation of life. They have earned this opportunity. We want this to be a celebration they will remember forever. [We are] thrilled to be welcoming the Transplant Games to the New Jersey live from the Meadowlands."

American Dream Meadowlands is honored to support the Transplant Games, said Debbie Patire, Vice President of Marketing. "Sponsoring the 2020 Games is a natural fit.  -- We look forward to partnering with the Transplant Games and Sharing Network and all sponsors in spreading the word and raising awareness of this unbelievable life saving mission." -- "Let’s dream and make the 2020 Transplant Games the most successful yet."

Newark couldn't be prouder to be part of it, said Karen Aaron, President and CEO of the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We are very excited to get started and get plugged in to make sure that New Jersey stands out -- that we represent our community and make sure that we drive organ donation. Newark is here to go the distance with you. We are ready to get started."

Union County Freeholder Chris Hudak, who also is a donor family, said, "I welcome the games to Union County and we are here to be a partner and do everything we can to make this a very successful game."

Phil Kolm, Chair of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation, urged people to advocate and spread the word about this historic event. "Tour our facility in New Providence and find out more about what we do. There will be 4,000 volunteers during the games, we are counting on New Jerseyans to step up [to volunteer], because that is what we do."

Visit the NJ Sharing Network website to learn more about the 2020 Transplant Games and how you can participate and volunteer.