Pushing through the early morning cold and rains on Sunday, Huntington residents raced to support organ and tissue donations.
“I think we did fantastic for a first time run,” said Michele Martines, run organizer and mother of a heart transplant recipient. “For the cause, we’re going to save some lives.”
Roughly 130 runners helped to raise nearly $5,000 for LiveOnNY, a nonprofit association dedicated to recovering organs and tissues for transplants in the New York metropolitan region, at the 5K Race to Save Lives held April 29 at Harborfields High School. The event was sponsored by Simply Fit Health and Wellness gym, which has locations in Centerport and Huntington, Huntington Hospital and several Huntington Town officials.
The event recognized two donor recipients including Councilman Mark Cuthbertson’s (D) son, Hunter Cuthbertson, who had to receive a bone marrow transplant in 2017, and Martines’ son, Christian Siems,who celebrated the third year after his heart transplant April 25.
“A lot of people don’t know about organ transplants, that or they have misconceptions and they just assume things.”
Hunter Cuthbertson was diagnosed with aplastic anemia during a precollege physical in 2016. Aplastic anemia is a failure of the bone marrow to produce the necessary amount of red blood cells. Though the chance of finding a perfect match in bone marrow with a relative is only 25 percent, the younger Cuthbertson found that his brother was a perfect match.
“I was elated when I learned he was a match, I dropped to my knees and I was crying,” he said. “But he’s one of the lucky ones. The other 75 percent need to go the unmatched registry. The larger the registry the larger the chance that someone’s going to get saved.”
He underwent a week of chemotherapy before having a bone marrow transplant performed in March 2017.
Siems learned his heart was beginning to fail before he turned 21. He had an external defibrillator installed and tried to move toward college, but after getting progressively more tired and sick he was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center where he was told he would need a heart transplant. Luckily for Siems in just six months he received a call that they found a donor.
“I’ve known [Siems] since I’ve moved here, and it’s been hard watching Christian go through what he has,” Joe Bertolini, Siems’ neighbor and overall winner of the 5k, said. “He’s come to talk to us at our school about what he’s been through. It’s inspirational.”
Siems has taken up publicly speaking about the need for organ donors to local schools and community organizations.
“Only about 32 percent of New Yorkers are registered to be donors, in some states its over 56 percent.”
“A lot of people don’t know about organ transplants, that or they have misconceptions and they just assume things,” he said. “I go out there and talk to kids, the next generation and I educate them on what it is, and not to be scared of it. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.”
Despite the two young men’s luck in finding donors, they are not the average case. New York State is currently ranked last in terms of number of residents who are registered as organ donors, according to LiveOnNY’s website. There are currently 9,359 people waiting on organ donations in the state.
“Only about 32 percent of New Yorkers are registered to be donors, in some states its over 56 percent,” Karen Cummings, a public and professional education specialist for LiveOnNY said. “We are the fourth fastest growing registry, but New York is still at the bottom of the list.”
A number of people who raced were the recipients of organ or tissue donations. Huntington resident Hal Strauss, who in August 2017 collapsed as he was doing his regular bike exercise. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital where he learned he needed a new liver.
“You just wait by the phone,” Strauss said. “I was able to get my organ in seven months, but I’m an anomaly. For other people it can take years.”
New York residents can register as organ donors whenever they visit the DMV, register to vote, register for health insurance through the health benefits exchange or
online at LiveOnNY’s website