East Orange native recalls life saving transplant

Photo Courtesy of NJ Sharing Network Christine Williams, who received a double lung transplant, now advocates on behalf of the NJ Sharing Network.

EAST ORANGE — Christine Williams recently celebrated seven years since her life was saved by a double-lung transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
The East Orange native and lifelong New Jersey resident enjoyed this milestone with loved ones and friends, including her five children, nine grandchildren, and a great-grandson.
“I feel like every day is a blessing from God,” said Williams, who is 61. “I am forever thankful to my organ donor and their family for giving me the gift of life. Because of them, I have been able to enjoy more time with my family and I am inspired to give back to others.”
One of the ways that Williams is giving back is by serving as an advocate for NJ Sharing Network, the nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue in New Jersey. She shares her transplant journey with others to encourage more people to register as organ and tissue donors, according to a press release from the Network.
Born and raised in East Orange, Williams was the ninth of 10 children. Her parents, Doris and Bill, were active in the U.S. Army throughout her childhood. Doris was a second lieutenant serving stateside, and Bill was a private stationed in Okinawa. Williams has memories of being the largest family at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament in East Orange and her years at St. Vincent Academy in Newark.
In 2009, Williams faced a serious health concern when she was twice hospitalized with pneumonia. Testing showed scarring on her lungs, and she was, ultimately, diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).
“They told me there was no cure and that life expectancy with IPF was about 1-3 years,” said Williams. “I remember thinking, ‘well, this may be it.’ However, I had the support of my family and I kept hold of my faith.”
Williams focused on her health, lost more than 30 pounds by exercising daily and returned to work. However, in 2013, her condition worsened, and she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. She traveled for procedures and treatments to medical institutions in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania before being added to the transplant list at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in August 2015.
Christine recalled the day she received a call that was getting a transplant.
“On Jan. 3, 2016, I was getting ready to go to church. I always joked that my car was like a ‘bomb on wheels’ because I had to carry my oxygen tanks along with me everywhere I went,” said Christine. “My son Darrell received the voicemail. I remember turning to my daughter Gabrielle and saying, ‘Oh wow, this is really happening.’ I only waited for four hours, and I was wheeled in for the surgery. It was a very spiritual experience for me. I saw light, and I felt like I was being carried by angels. I knew in my heart that I was going to be OK – I was never so confident in my life.”
Christine’s life-saving double lung transplant was a success, but she had a difficult challenge ahead in her recovery.
“I anticipated staying in the hospital for a month, but I was home in nine days,” said Christine. “The physical recovery was grueling, but the mental and emotional challenges were even tougher. I was not prepared for the range of feelings I had, including depression and survivor’s guilt. Now, I tell people waiting for transplant to be sure to connect with others to ensure you have that emotional support every step of the way.”
Today, Christine is retired and doing all she can to give back to others by volunteering with NJ Sharing Network and the Garden State Pulmonary Fibrosis Group. She also hopes that she will be able to personally connect with her donor family at some point in the future.
Currently, there are more than 100,000 Americans, nearly 4,000 of whom live in New Jersey, waiting for a life-saving transplant, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). In 2022, the number of organ donors, 283, and organs transplanted, 670, in a single year reached all-time highs This marked the fourth consecutive year NJ Sharing Network has reported new records in the number of organ donors.
To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.