South River parents encourage organ donation after losing daughter

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SOUTH RIVER–Continuing to honor the life and legacy of Angela Bongiovi, her family continues to participate in the NJ Sharing Network’s annual 5K Celebration of Life event.

Dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation, NJ Sharing Network is a non-profit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for the nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents waiting for a lifesaving transplant, and is also part of the national recovery system, serving the 115,000 people on the national waiting list, according to a prepared statement from the network.

Pat Bongiovi said that her daughter, Angela Bongiovi, passed away on Sept. 29, 2012, at the age of 28, due to a motorcycle accident.

“She had gone out with a friend of hers, they were riding on a motorcycle and he basically lost control and she was thrown from the bike an extremely long distance,” Bongiovi said. “We were away on vacation and we got a call, my son called us, saying that Angela had been in a very serious accident.”

Bongiovi said that once she and her family arrived at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick when they were given the details about Angela’s accident.

“She was on life support. The only injuries she had after being thrown … I don’t even remember how many feet, [was] a broken leg and a brain injury from hitting her head – that was it, of course, that is what killed her, but that was it,” Bongiovi said. “Every other body part, viable organ, they were all intact.” 

Before Angela passed away, Bongiovi said that her daughter told her she had been an organ donor since she was 17 years old.

“My daughter and I used to walk every night. It was the August before she passed away. We were walking and we were just getting into this really deep conversation and she was telling me that she was an organ donor and that when she dies she wants to give her organs away,” Bongiovi said. “This was something we never thought of in this house, it was just not a topic that was prevalent in our conversations … but she told me that she really strongly believed when she dies she would like to continue helping people.” 

Bongiovi said Angela also expressed a strong desire to be cremated and literally less than eight weeks later the family was granting her wishes. 

“Did she have a premonition, who knows? She told me that she had been an organ donor since she was 17 and that was for 11 years and I had no idea,” Bongiovi said. “This was her idea, her wishes, had we not been walking and had that conversation, we may have done something totally different, but she was so adamant and so strong in her want and desire that I had no choice. It was on her driver’s license that is a legal binding document and I was not going against it.” 

Bongiovi said Angela was on life support for about a week before they sadly they had to say goodbye.

“For me, she was too vibrant, too joyful, too happy, too energetic for all of us to watch her just be there,” Bongiovi said. “So we made the decision and because she was an organ donor we were approached by the procurement nurses and they said that once we make that decision that she would be taken off life support, it that what we are going to do?’”

Once the family decided to take her off of life support, Bongiovi said, “There were several of us in the room – it was myself, my husband, my son, my daughter, my future daughter-in-law and the nursing team – and I don’t know who cried harder, us or them. I have never seen a more passionate organization in my life than the [NJ] Sharing Network. I could say that openly a thousand times. And we gave them permission to harvest her organs and they did.”

Bongiovi said since her daughter was an organ donor, she helped save many lives. 

“One of [Angela’s] kidneys were donated to an 18-year-old, her other kidney and pancreas went to a 40-year-old, her liver was given to another 18-year-old, her lungs were given to a 67-year-old, and her heart was given to a 37-year-old woman who happened to be a mother of two,” Bongiovi said. “Of course through organ and tissue, there are just hundreds of people you can help that way.” 

Seven years after her death, Bongiovi said she, her husband Dominick, other family members and friends have been participating in NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Celebration of Life for seven consecutive years and walk together under The A-Team in honor of Angela’s memory and life.

“The 5K Celebration of Life events bring together donor families, transplant recipients, those waiting for a transplant, volunteers, sponsors and partners, all of whom play an integral role in making our lifesaving mission possible,” NJ Sharing Network President and CEO Joe Roth said in a prepared statement. “The sheer volume of support, compassion and dedication is palpable as our teams walk and run to celebrate the gift of life.”

Sporting sneakers and A-Team t-shirts, Bongiovi said she and her husband walked in this year’s 5K on May 19 at the Great Lawn at the Ocean Promenade in Long Branch.

“We keep her memory alive. The Sharing Network has become a second family to us and as a matter of fact, my husband and I were just saying if and when we are blessed enough to retire, this is an organization we would really reach out to do volunteer work with,” Bongiovi said. 

In 2018, 678 lifesaving transplants were made possible, 537 from deceased donors and an additional 141 from living donors. Today, there are nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents awaiting a lifesaving transplant, according to a statement from the network.

Through the 5K Celebration of Life, NJ Sharing Network’s Foundation hopes to raise $1.25 million to increase the number of lives saved through research, family support, public awareness and education about the lifesaving benefits of organ and tissue donation and transplantation, according to the statement.

On May 5, Bongiovi said she and her family attended the NJ Sharing Network’s unveiling ceremony where a plaque to honor their daughter’s memory and life was unveiled at network’s Landscape of Life Meditation Garden, located at 691 Central Ave. in New Providence. 

Bongiovi said during the ceremony her son delivered a speech and the plaque was designed by her youngest daughter.

When asked about what advice she would give to someone who is deciding whether to become an organ donor, Bongiovi said, “I would ask them to first read the statistics on how many people out there truly need these organs, the tissues, your bone marrow. Look at how many lives you can potentially save. When you are gone you’re gone … why are you going to take those viable organs that could help somebody, like Angela’s heart, was given to a mom. That’s incredible to me and she’s doing well.” 

Bongiovi continued to say, “I ask them to please read the stats, make a decision, talk to your clergymen if you feel it’s against your religion, a lot of people feel that way. Talk to them do your research, talk to donors, talk to the donor families, [and] if you really want clarity, talk to a recipient.” 

For more information about the NJ Sharing Network, visit www.njsharingnetwork.org/our-mission.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.