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Jennifer's Journey: Heart Recipient

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Posted by: 
New York Alliance for Donation

Jennifer Lentini was an active 13 year old girl. She played lacrosse, softball, basketball, danced and was a champion competitive baton twirler. Then one day in April 1996, everything suddenly changed for Jen. While playing lacrosse, she suddenly became short of breath and felt faint. She had terrible stomach pain. For days, her parents shuttled her back and forth between her doctor's office and the hospital, where they tested for urinary infections, viruses, appendicitis, and twisted ovaries, but no one could figure out what was wrong with her. She was finally admitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery, and doctors removed her appendix.

When Jen left surgery, she went into sudden cardiac arrest.

It was then that Jen's doctors realized that she was in heart failure.  She needed to be transferred to a hospital that was more capable of meeting her medical needs, but doctors worried she wouldn't survive the trip.  Her family was told to say goodbye.  A priest administered her last rites.  And in the meantime, her doctors were able to stabilize her enough to take an ambulance to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

Jen awoke at her new hospital and was told she needed a heart transplant due to sudden onset of acute cardiomyopathy. She didn't even know what that meant. Her heart was failing, and a transplant was the only way to save her life. Jen had to remain at the hospital and wait until a heart became available -- IF a heart became available.

Jen and her family waited. A girl once so full of life was instead confined to a hospital bed, in isolation because she was so susceptible to infection. She was unable to keep food down. It was difficult for her to transfer back and forth between a wheelchair. She required IV medication 24-hours a day and multiple pills to keep her alive.

For four months, Jen detiorated as her heart weakened. Then, on July 6, 1996, Jen received a second chance at life. She received the heart she needed so desperately from a 14 year old boy named Matthew. Two weeks later, Jen was able to go home.
In the nearly 18 years that have passed since Jen received her transplant, she has gone on to accomplish great things and always lives her life to the fullest. She earned her degree in social work, coaches baton twirling, and rides rollercoasters for fun. She honors her donor Matthew through volunteering with organizations that advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation. Jen says,
"Volunteering is a way giving back for me...
I do this because I got the best gift, You can receive --- the gift of life
--- the gift of second chance. Thank you to my donor and my donor family... You are my Angels and I could never repay you for the gift of breath...."