Rockland student cherishes heart transplant, spreads the word

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By Laura LaVacca
Campus News

Roxanne Watson, Rockland Community College alumna (’87), is working hard to spread awareness about organ donation. She received a life-saving heart transplant in 2010 and vowed to honor the donor with her life’s work. While still in the hospital recovering, she planned her new path and ever since, she has been repeatedly recognized at both the state and local levels for her accomplishments.

“I suffered a silent heart attack in May of 2006 that went undiagnosed for 6 weeks when I went to the ER with back discomfort. I was told then that I had had a heart attack. I was completely clueless.”

For the next two years, Watson received cardiac care in her local neighborhood but was not improving. In June of 2008, she was sent to New York City for an advanced cardiac care evaluation. After nine days in the hospital, she was placed on the heart transplant wait list and was “in shock.”

For two years Watson battled with her heart failure and began deteriorating quickly late in 2009. She was eventually placed in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit but in April of 2010 she received the gift of life “from a 23 year old Coastguard E3 Fireman.” Normally, patients are only told the sex and age of their donor but Watson was featured on the “Ask Oprah’s All Stars” show where Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz found her donor’s family and met them.

“Meeting that family changed my life, and I vowed to carry their son’s heart with honor and continue my work to spread the word and actually sign up new organ donors in his name. This was my best way to honor him and help others that may have find themselves waiting so horribly long like I did.”

Watson started volunteering nine days after leaving the hospital and hasn’t stopped since. She is a fulltime volunteer for Live on NY. She also began volunteering at SUNY Rockland in 2012 and won the Campaign for Life statewide contest with the help of the student body and went on to repeat that win in 2013.
“I was so inspired by the students there I returned to school myself after an absence of 27 years. I am now a Culinary Arts Major taking five classes this semester,” Watson joyfully states.

Watson wants everyone to know that there are over 121,000 people waiting for life saving organ transplants. One person can save eight other people with their organs and impact up to 50 lives with tissue donations. Of the 121,000 waiting, 100,000 are for kidneys alone – one of the two organs that can be donated by a living person. The liver is the other organ that can be donated while still alive because it regenerates.

She also shares that the biggest misconception she spends time debunking is the belief that doctors will not work as hard to save a donor’s life.

“Organ donation occurs after a patient is declared either cardiac dead or brain dead. Only then will a physician not legally affiliated that declaration be notified through a local organ donor procurement authorized organization. In fact my donor had his accident on a Sunday night, and I did not receive his donated heart until the following Friday.”

Watson’s current goal is to reach 10,000 new organ, eye and tissue donors by 2017.

“I am very proud to say I am now closing in on signing up over 9,000 new donors and am one of the top, most active volunteers in the United States and have traveled as far as Fiji to share my story.”

To date Watson has received almost 50 major awards and appeared in over 100 media outlets on television, radio and print. She recently became a Huffington Post contributor and received a nomination and win for a 2016 Eddie Award. The Eddie recognized her article, “What a Silent Heart Attack Sounds Like,” in Heart Insight Magazine for the American Heart Association.

Watson hopes to continue her education in the culinary arts and maybe open a food truck to supplement her ultimate goal of starting an organ donor foundation in the name of her donor, Michael Bovill.