NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The NJ Sharing Network recently held a Rose Dedication Ceremony for Jim Rhatican of Berkeley Heights, a liver recipient, who has been selected as one of the honorees on the "Donate Life" float at the New Year's Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA.
"Since 2004, the Donate Life float has added an emotional and deeply meaningful dimension to America's New Year's celebration at the Rose Parade," said Amanda Tibok, Senior Manager, Philanthropy & Foundation Programs at NJ Sharing Network. The Donate Life float is the centerpiece of a national media campaign which inspires tens of thousands of people throughout the nation to save lives through organ donation.
This year's float will carry the theme "Rhythm of the Heart" and reflects the overall parade theme of which is "Melody of Life" which celebrates the power of music and bringing people together, said Tibok. The float also highlights the diversity of rhythms of Africa. 26 living donors and transplant recipients will ride or walk alongside the float.
Joe Roth, President and CEO of NJ Sharing Network led the Rose Dedication Ceremony. He invited Rhatican's family and friends in attendance to dedicate a rose. A rose is a symbol of love, loss and renewal, said Roth. "It is appropriate to which to dedicate and put on the float."
Each year, the NJ Sharing Network along with sponsors send people to ride on the float. Elisse Glennon, Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer NJ Sharing Network, said that five will be riding from New Jersey. The float riders are organ and tissue recipients and serve as ambassadors of the NJ Sharing Network's life saving mission. "Jim is a great ambassador for our mission," said Tibok. "He continues to honor his gift and educate people as one of the most active volunteers in our program."
Rhatican, a retired Millburn High School teacher and coach of 35 years, speaks to students regularly through the High School Heroes Program. "It's very rewarding when I go and speak to high school kids," he said. "I am continuously moved by students, teachers and parents who tell me their stories and thank me for my efforts."
Rhatican was placed on the liver transplant list in September 2008 after receiving the shocking news that he had two to 10 months to live because there was a large chance he wouldn't receive a new liver. "I didn't realize how sick I was. When I went to a physical, the doctor said there's something wrong because my face was jaundice," he said. "They sent me to University Hospital for tests. -- They said I would probably die. They said to get my things in order. It was a shock to tell my kids that I was dying."
"He was blessed, he waited two months," said Rhatican's wife Toni. "Sadly, it's because someone died. In December, he was number one on the donor list. Twice, we received a false alarm, the liver wasn't a match."
Rhatican received a call from his organ coordinator on a magical morning.
"On Christmas night, I became ill and had to go to the hospital," said Toni. "The day after Christmas, I was in the emergency and he got a phone call at 7:30 in the morning from his coordinator. She said, 'Merry Christmas, we have a liver for you.'"
His donor was brain dead and his family chose to donate as many organs as they could.
Rhatican said that the Sharing Network says that donor families give the gift of life, "I add, it's a gift of love. All of the organ donors gave something of their loved one so another human being can continue to live. Everyday, I am thankful for the day I wake up -- all because one family decided to save my life. My donor has given me the opportunity to see all my granddaughters born. They would have never known me. I live for my grandchildren," he said.
He has never met his donor family. "I learned he was from India working in technology. When he died, the family moved back to India." He acts as a surrogate recipient for other families. When he speaks at events, he thanks them for the courage and strength to make the decision to save someone's life.
He gives back as much as he can to the Sharing Network out of gratitude.
"You have no idea -- the gratitude we have to the donor families who had to lose a loved one just so our father could live," said Rhatican's daughter Julie Nelson. "There is no way to say thank you. The way you say thank you is to try and pay it forward, what else can you do."
Rhatican said he was driving by NJ Sharing Network in New Providence about six months after receiving his life saving liver transplant and decided to stop in to introduce himself to the receptionist to tell her he was an organ recipient. He was introduced to Mary Ellen McGlynn, who met with him and asked him to speak to some of their employees about his story. To his surprise, he spoke to a room of 150 people. And 10 years later -- he is one of their most dedicated volunteers speaking to hundreds of students about his story and organ donation. He has also told his story at health fairs and to doctors, nurses and other hospital staff throughout New Jersey. His family and friends participate and have raised money for the NJ Sharing Network's Celebration of Life 5K team The Rhat Pack since 2012.