As part of Donate Life America’s national “20 Million in 2012” campaign to boost organ donation, New Jersey was chosen to launch “I am Hope”, an initiative that will highlight 365 personal stories of organ and tissue donation. From January 1st until January 7th, New Jersey will share powerful testimonies of hope and heart transplant recipient Jessica Melore, is also featured in the first “Story of Hope” video.
On January 4th, 2012, Jessica Melore reached a milestone that thirteen years ago was almost unimaginable—her 30th birthday. As a 16-year-old high school senior, Jessica collapsed from a sudden, massive heart attack with no prior warning. Then a co-captain of her varsity tennis team with no history of any significant medical problems, Jessica’s case stunned physicians. In three hospitals over the course of a night, they fought to save her, and Last Rites were pronounced as she was not expected to live.
A heart transplant was her last hope for survival. However, due to a critical shortage of organs and a national waiting list that has since risen to over 110,000 people, the outlook was bleak. Doctors managed to stabilize her on an implanted experimental heart assist device that pumped the left side of her heart via battery power. Her parents had to make the difficult decision to let the doctors amputate her left leg because of surgical complications.
For nine months Jessica waited, watching friends in the hospital die from not receiving hearts in time, not knowing if she would meet the same fate. Then, a few days before high school graduation, the call finally came. A second chance to live.
Three months later she was a freshman at Princeton University, speaking publicly about heart disease and advocating for organ and tissue donation. Upon graduation, she received the Allen Macy Dulles award for the student that represents Princeton’s motto “Princeton in the Nation’s Service and in the Service of all Nations.” She went on to work for NJ Sharing Network and currently serves as Senior Education and Programs Manager, overseeing public education and partnerships with Motor Vehicle Agencies, PBA and other community groups.
In 2011, the Donate Life Rose Parade committee wanted to honor Jessica’s heart donor, Shannon Miller, with a portrait on the float, and asked Jessica to ride on New Year’s Day as a special tribute. Decorating the portrait gave Jessica a chance to meet Shannon’s family for the first time, after eleven years of correspondence. Jessica is alive today because Shannon registered to be a donor on her license when she was 18—an action that brought Jessica’s advocacy with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission full circle.
“When you’re 16, the idea that you’d never live to see 30 is unfathomable—until you’re placed on the transplant waiting list,” Jessica says. “Thanks to Shannon’s selfless decision to be a donor, I can live with the hope of reaching 90. It’s a decision that has saved countless lives. I hope that others will be inspired to make the difference and register today.”
To see Jessica's "I am Hope" video, click here.
To read more about the 20 in 2012 campaign, click here.