CRANFORD, NJ — Emma Rothman, of Cranford, is just weeks away from graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in food studies. Like most college graduates, she has mixed emotions about taking the next step in her life’s journey.
“I am definitely a bit terrified, but I am excited about the variety of opportunities that lie ahead,” Rothman said.
This is a remarkable time for Rothman, as she is also celebrating on April 1 the 10-year anniversary of her life-saving heart transplant. She is humble and always thankful for her donor, who gave her the gift of life and made her achievements possible.
“Everything after my heart transplant was working towards moments like this,” Rothman said. “It motivates me to appreciate the day-to-day. Being able to travel, go away to school and have life experiences without my health dictating what I can and cannot do is a blessing. I owe all of this to my organ donor’s act of extraordinary humanity.”
In March 2011, Rothman was 12 years old when she suddenly began to feel extremely fatigued and could not make it through an entire day at school. Her parents brought her to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center for what was supposed to be a quick, routine blood test. However, Rothman went into cardiac arrest, was put on life support under an induced coma and was rushed to the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at New York–Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.
Rothman, who had shown no prior symptoms except for extreme fatigue, was somehow battling end-stage heart failure brought on by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. On April 1, 2011, Rothman underwent a successful emergency heart transplant, which saved her life. Just 15 days later, Rothman was discharged, taking with her new knowledge about what a heart transplant is and how she could best care for her new heart at home.
“The last thing I remember was feeling uncomfortable while the nurses were attempting to draw blood at the hospital, thinking I might have had mono or a virus,” Rothman said. “I woke up six days later and learned that I had a heart transplant. Prior to that, I had never heard of organ and tissue donation or transplantation.”
In 2013, Rothman and her family, guided by their firsthand experience, established Hearts for Emma, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to families of children with heart disease, supports educational initiatives related to heart transplantation, and promotes awareness of organ and tissue donation. As part of a joint outreach effort, Hearts for Emma established a partner fund within the NJ Sharing Network Foundation that has raised more than $50,000 since its inception. The Hearts for Emma partner fund has helped educate more than 100,000 students in New Jersey about organ and tissue donation and transplantation through the production and distribution of education materials and related programs, and provides scholarships to high school seniors who are advocates of or personally affected by the mission.