One man’s emotional journey from donor to recipient

Bob Miller, a 68-year-old Englewood resident, counts his daily pill regimen. It’s a complex cocktail helping his body adjust from a lifesaving kidney transplant

“The hospital provides me with a chart with all the medications. Each bottle is numbered,” he explained.

Miller received the transplant from an altruistic donor — someone he’ll never met — after an emotional ride to get there.

“I had found four donors, four live donors, that matched me. But unfortunately they all washed out at the end of the physical. They didn’t pass the physical,” he said.

That part of the story is well known by the thousands on waiting lists for an organ transplant. In New Jersey, every three days someone will die while waiting for a transplant.

Despite fighting kidney disease for years — the ninth leading cause of death in New Jersey — Miller never lost faith. You could call it karma or life coming full circle, but nearly two decades ago he gave the gift of life. He donated bone marrow to save the life of a stranger, a young man half his age who was dying of leukemia. It was emotional when they met for the first time.

“When I donated the bone marrow 20 years ago I had no idea, how would I know, possibly know, that I would need a lifesaving organ transplant in the future? I didn’t. I did it because it was the right thing to do. And that’s what we all have to do: the right thing,” Miller said.

Miller credits his Jewish faith for his decision to donate. It teaches that if you save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the world. Elisse Glennon, vice president and chief administrative officer of the NJ Sharing Network, says it’s a message that needs to be spread.

“Nationally there are 115,000 people waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Here in New Jersey, we have about 4,000 residents waiting for a transplant,” Glennon said.

That wait can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years. Eighty percent of those on the list are in need of a kidney. Many undergo dialysis in the meantime, hoping they make it to the day they get a match.

“Last year in New Jersey, we had about 141 living kidney donors and probably less than 10 were altruistic donors, meaning they didn’t know their recipient,” Glennon said.

Living donors can give a kidney, bone marrow, a portion of the liver, and, on occasion, a partial lung transplant. For now, Miller is enjoying this next chapter of life one day at a time with wife and caregiver Sara Lee and dog Allie by his side. He has a spring in his step that he hasn’t felt for years.

“I realize that I have been given an incredible gift and I’m not about to give it away. I’m going to take care of it,” Miller said.

But for Miller, perhaps the best part of this new life is the fact that he knows how it feels to save one.

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