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A heart-to-heart talk with Roxanne Watson

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 2/21/2013, 3:41 p.m.
A heart-to-heart talk with Roxanne Watson

Using her own personal experience, Roxanne Watson advocates the need for more people of color to become organ donors. Watson herself was the recipient of a heart from an organ donor, paving the way for her mission to save lives.

A resident of Rockland County, Watson became seriously ill in 2005, leading her to be hospitalized more than 15 times. After going into advanced cardiac care in 2008, she was informed by her doctor that she was in need of a heart transplant and put on the wait list.

In 2010, weighing only 93 pounds, she was hospitalized at Montefiore Medical Center and stayed for nearly 80 days before she got her transplant. While there, she noticed other people who looked like her also waiting for transplants.

"I was there so long I got to know every nurse on every shift," she said. "I would have to say about 70 percent of the people who were there waiting for transplants were a minority too."

She received her heart from 23-year-old Mike Bovill, a Coast Guard serviceman and carpenter. Bovill was returning to base on his motorcycle when he was struck by a truck on the George Washington Bridge in July 2010. His driver's license indicated that he wanted to donate his organs. Watson's story soon put her in the spotlight and she also got the surprise of her life.

"I wrote to Oprah Winfrey and told her about my concern about African-Americans not being signed up for organ donation," she said. "Oprah's producers got in contact with me to come on her show and discuss the issue. When I went on the show, they surprised me and I got to meet my donor family. I had no idea, it was a total surprise for me. Everyone in the audience was crying."

Watson later found out that Bovill donated five of his organs, saving five lives. Four of the five people that received his organs were people of color.

Now living her "second life," Watson spends her time volunteering for the New York Organ Network, getting more Blacks to become organ donors. She does at least one event a week and has signed up people at health fairs, hospitals and colleges.

Watson recently received an award from the Organ Donor Network for signing up 2,000 people last year as potential donors. She has also partnered with the Brooklyn Nets to get people to sign up as organ donors at basketball games throughout the season.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," she said. "I was sick for a long time. Had I not got that organ, I would not be here to talk about it today."

Continuing to spread her message, Watson was invited to speak at St. Patrick's Cathedral in April, where she is appearing at a special service for organ donors and families. She is also getting an award from the Martin Luther King Center. Visit www.donatelifeny.org for more information.