This holiday season will be a special time for Leena Sandhu of East Windsor. As her family and friends joyfully count their blessings, Leena is also reflecting on the gift of life and the miracle of organ and tissue donation and transplantation.
Sandhu, who recently celebrated her 50th birthday, was diagnosed with lupus when she was a 16-year-old student at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School. During her college years at Rutgers University, her health issues grew progressively worse and she was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Ultimately, her kidneys failed and she was placed on dialysis.
“I struggled every day for five years while I was on dialysis,” Sandhu said. “While waiting for a transplant miracle, I mentally felt hopeful, but physically, I was very fatigued all of the time.”
Sandhu’s mother Daljeet Sandhu helped make that miracle come true.
“I wanted to do anything that I could to help put a stop to my daughter’s suffering and allow her to live a happy, healthy and full life,” said Daljeet Sandhu.
Thankfully, Daljeet was able to be a living kidney donor, and the medical team at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (formerly Saint Barnabas Medical Center) performed the successful transplant surgery in September 1997.
“My mother’s selfless gift gave me a second chance at life,” Leena Sandhu said. “I am grateful beyond words because it allowed me to live a normal life – something many people take for granted.”
For the next 18 years, Leena Sandhu’s health and energy was fully restored thanks to her mother’s kidney. In 2015, the transplanted kidney failed and Leena Sandhu was, once again, placed on dialysis.
Four months later, Leena Sandhu was matched to a deceased organ donor and underwent a second successful transplant at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center with support from NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue in the Garden State.
“I felt a whole range of emotions when I received ‘the call’ that a kidney was available and that I had to be at the hospital within a few hours,” said Leena Sandhu. “I was grateful, but I felt nervous even though I had been through it before. While in the hospital, it hit me that someone passed away to allow me to have another chance. My thoughts turned to their family and the precious life that had been lost. I am forever grateful to my donor hero.”
As an avid photographer, hiker and traveler, Leena Sandhu has now trekked to 30 countries and visited 41 states in the U.S.
She also got married in 2018 and appreciates many of the little things in life.
“While I was ill, I just didn’t have a taste for food and ate very small quantities,” said Leena Sandhu. “Now, food has a completely different taste and appeal. I enjoy going out to eat and trying all types of food that I never had before.”
During all of her adventures and experiences, Leena Sandhuis forever mindful of the selfless decisions made by her mother and her organ donor who gave her the gift of life.
“The biggest gift you can give someone is the opportunity to lead a healthy life,” said Leena Sandhu. “Organ donors are truly heroes in every way.”
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are waiting for a lifesaving transplant. One person in New Jersey dies every three days waiting for a transplant. Just one organ and tissue donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 people.
To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.