Bay Ridge native and organ donor reflects during annual Donate Life Month event

April 18, 2019 Jaime DeJesus
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Saving lives, one donation at a time.

NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn and LiveOnNY, a nonprofit dedicated to the recovery of organs and body tissue for transplant in New York City, kicked off Donate Life Month with a flag-raising ceremony held at NYU Langone-Brooklyn earlier this month.

This year, Bay Ridge native Bill O’Hagan, an organ recipient, had the opportunity to explain how a donor saved his life.

“I was diagnosed with liver cancer back in 2016,” he said. While, in the beginning, O’Hagan said, his diagnosis was such that he wasn’t eligible for a transplant, subsequent MRIs told a different story — that O’Hagan’s three tumors were situated in such a way that a transplant was indeed possible, and O’Hagan was put on the transplant list.

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He waited a year and a half for a donor and, during that time, had two other bouts of cancer.

After the transplant, as he set off on the road to recovery, O’Hagan felt immensely grateful.

“Once I had the transplant, my first reaction was, how great is this,” he said. “It’s over. Then you sit back and you think somebody’s got to die for me to live. It’s allowed me to walk my daughter down the aisle. My grandson was born. I have three of them now and I get to go to their birthday parties. Who knew?”

Since then, O’Hagan’s goal has been to find a way to give back.

“I do as much as I can for LiveOnNY,” he said. “Every time a notice goes out for some kind of event, I respond right away.”

Signing up to become an organ donor in New York City is especially critical.

“Organ donation is really important in New York,” said Alison McSherry, a spokesperson for LiveOnNY. “There are 10,000 New Yorkers — adults and children — waiting for an organ transplant and we don’t have nearly enough registered donors, so events like this do a wonderful job at drawing attention to the cause and having people who have been touched by the cause like Bill share their story and hopefully inspire others to register to save lives.”

“New York is at the bottom of the list and we want to get as many people becoming donors,” O’Hagan added. “There’s a lot of fear. I tell them, ‘Listen, I’m still here because of it,’ and whatever I can do now, I hope I’m helping the next generation and saving lives.”

Dr. Joseph Weisstuch, chief medical officer at NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, echoed O’Hagan’s sentiment.

“It’s important for people to feel what it’s like for people who wait for a donation and also to feel what it’s like for families who have gotten closure and comfort,” he said. “It has tremendous meaning for families that give as well as basically a new life for the recipients.”

Today, O’Hagan is cancer free.

“My family is relieved,” he said. “The hardest thing to do, especially as a father, is to tell your kids that you’re scared and nervous. You always try to put on a brave front but they can always see through it.”

He has written to his donation family thanking them and says he hopes to meet them one day.

“I have met other donor families, and the conversations I’ve had with them were amazing,” said O’Hagan. “I can’t wait until I can sit down with my donor family. I don’t know what to say.”

NYU Langone-Brooklyn is located at 150 55th St.

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