Destrehan woman plays it by heart

Jamie Napolitano and her family (L) with her donor family.
Jamie Napolitano and her family (L) with her donor family.

Meets family of donor who saved her life

Jamie Napolitano is determined to compete in the Transplant Games of America, but in her heart she knows she’s already won.

“I’ve had this heart for nine years now, but I lived 33 years with a very sick heart,” Napolitano said. “Now it’s no more coughing all night long, sitting up to sleep because your heart isn’t pumping enough and no energy.”

Since the transplant, life has changed significantly for her.

Napolitano exercises six days a week and has run several marathons. She and fellow transplant recipient Emily Traylor are raising money to compete in 2018 Transplant Games Aug. 1 – 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Funds raised would also cover their donor families.

Two “Rides for Life” fundraisers are planned at Anytime Fitness in Destrehan on May 4 and May 20. The event will feature a one-hour class with two instructors, great music and high energy where people can donate money to ride the bikes. Anyone who donates $12 or more gets a T-shirt. Napolitano and Taylor also will be at each event to talk about the Olympic-style games, which are aimed at promoting the importance of donating organs.

Napolitano plans to compete in track and field, and the 5K run. In 2016, she won three gold medals, two silver and two bronze in field and track, and tennis.

Even more significant for her is her donor family also has attended the games along with her.

“It’s very powerful,” Napolitano said. “We’re trying to raise awareness about what organ donation does … to honor the donor families.”

Recipients attend a donor memorial and the donor families attend with them. At the last games, Napolitano said the mother of her donor leaned over and told her if she had to make the decision to donate again, she would do it over and over again, and added, “I’m so glad you have Cameron’s heart.”

By the time Napolitano got her transplant, her own heart was only 20 percent functional.

Napolitano said Cameron’s family coming to the games gives her the opportunity to thank them and build a relationship with them.

“I feel that what I can do for them is just live my life and give back,” she said.

Taylor also praised the games as being about more than just winning medals.

They are “about a new beginning, gaining newfound strength and courage, celebrating life , and remembering my hero for their selfless act of giving me a second chance at life with a strong, beautiful, beating heart.”

For Napolitano, it’s also a life-giving gift that 115,000 people in the U.S. are hoping to receive. One donor can save up to nine lives.

“I don’t think the public understands the impact of donations,” she said. “Eight to 10 people die a day waiting on an organ.”

Napolitano knows firsthand what it means to wait for one.

“I had exhausted all my resources and that was it for me after three defibrillators and medication my whole life,” she said. “I was at the end of my options.”

On the first day placed on the donor list, she was notified about a possible transplant, but an assessment determined someone else was a better candidate for that heart. Two weeks later another call came on New Year’s Day and her transplant came the next day.

“The biggest and most important thing for me is more time with my family,” Napolitano said. “The little things that people take for granted like going to my kids’ award ceremony at school or band practice is the biggest difference and we didn’t think without a heart this would be possible nine years ago.”


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