By Janee Law
Just last year, Greenalwn resident Christian Siems received a new heart.
The 22-year-old suffered from heart condition that caused his heart to become weakened and enlarged, and unable to pump blood effectively. He received a transplant on April 25, 2015, likely saving his life.
But, on Thursday, Siems was far from the operating table. Instead, he was vowing to take part in the 2016 Suffolk County Marathon and raise funds for organ donation advocacy through Team Liberty, a nonprofit organization that advocates for organ donation at many events on behalf of NJ Sharing Network, LiveOnNY and Donate Life Connecticut.
It’s one of six charitable teams set to participate in the Oct. 30 marathon, half marathon and 5k, sponsored by Catholic Health Services, announced Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone last Thursday.
“This year, what we’re highlighting is that we have an opportunity to not only raise money directly for veterans and veterans’ services here in Suffolk County, but we have the opportunity to utilize the marathon in a way that will raise funds for wonderful organizations,” Bellone said during a press conference. “These are teams are raising money for great causes and we’re incredibly grateful for the work they do and proud to be partnering with them in their efforts.”
Along with Team Liberty, the five other teams are: Patty’s Pacers, which is raising funds for the Patricia Keane deGeorge Memorial Scholarship at Adelphi University nursing school; Mothers Against Drunk Driving, advocating for MADD programs; Airborne Tri-Team, supporting the group’s veterans services; YMCA of Patchogue and Brookhaven, running to support YMCA programs; Rolling Thunder, advocating for athletes with special needs; and Homes for Our Troops, advocating for disabled veterans.
As for Siems, he said he’s expecting a great turnout for the event, and that “hopefully a lot of people will come and support every organization.”
Currently, Team Liberty is up to 15 participants, but there are hopes to get that number up to 30 or more. Goals also include raising $5,000 toward awareness for organ donation in New York, according to Michele Martines, who is Siems’ mother.
“We’re trying to bring more of it to New York,” she said. “It’s going to be wonderful that there’s going to be an event spotlighting the team.”
Across the state, there are around 10,000 residents on the waiting list for organ donation. Meanwhile, 27 percent of residents within the state are registered organ donors, compared to 50 percent of residents across the country.
New York is ranked as the last state in the nation of residents who are registered organ donors.
“The significance is to raise awareness on how far behind New York State is,” Siems said. “We need a lot of help to get where we’re going.”
Julia Rivera, director of communications at LiveOnNY, a nonprofit dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant in the New York metropolitan area, said she’s grateful that Suffolk has been mobilizing several efforts to generate awareness about the importance of donating.
She added, “There are opportunities, we just need to make sure that more people sign up.”
Bellone said the work Team Liberty does is so important, especially in New York.
“To be last in this critically important issue, we have to change that, we have to change that here in Suffolk County and all across the State of New York,” he added. “Team Liberty is helping to do that. We’re very grateful to them and we’re going to work with them to help make that happen.”