Roxanne Watson will make you change your mind about giving.
With her big smile and warm greeting, she'll politely ask you if you are registered for organ donation in New York state. A survivor and health advocate, she wants people to think hard about donating vital organs like a heart or kidney after death.
Watson is a recipient of a heart donated by 23-year-old Michael Blain Bovill, a Coast Guard E3 Fireman who died in July 2010, but gave the gift of life to five people.
“Michael saved five of us. He saved five completely different people, different ages, different religions,” Watson says.
She’s dedicated her life to education about organ donation and has signed up almost 10,000 New Yorkers through Long Live NY, the most of any person nationwide.
“People are uneducated about organ donation," she says. "Once I tell them, some people will sign up in two seconds.”
Now the Nanuet resident is getting a home makeover as a thank you.
The NBC show "George To The Rescue" with host George Oliphant gives home renovations to people because of their good deeds. Long Live NY surprised Watson with a backyard renovation by Oliphant, her favorite home renovation expert.
The show picked Watson because of her dedication to signing up New York organ donors.
“I feel awesome; it's the best thing that ever happened to me,” Watson says. "Actually when I was in the hospital, I sent him (Oliphant) a message."
Watson is looking forward to the backyard renovation because she hasn't been able to do any yard work since her heart transplant.
"You aren't allowed to do gardening; there's something in the dirt that can attack your heart," she says.
She calls her home "the party house." Her funky interior is a 1950's rock-'n'-roll paradise with a mix of Coca-Cola memorabilia, a selection of classic records pasted on the wall, a pool table and movie theater.
The renovation, estimated at $50,000, will revamp the backyard, but the details are top secret.
"We have to go for a couple weeks and they take control of the house," she says. But it will be done in time for her yearly event.
"Every year we have a heart party," she says. "Whenever it's (her backyard) finished we'll have a party," says Watson.
Watson, who worked in retail, had a six-figure salary and drove a yellow Corvette, enjoyed her life before her health diagnosis.
“I got sick in 2006; there is no way I shouldn’t have known, but I was never really sick,” she says. Watson, who had a strong family history of heart disease, had a silent heart attack.
She ended up getting cardiac care locally for two years until she was transferred to Montefiore Medical Center in Manhattan. “She (Dr. Julia Shin) put me in the hospital for nine days and put me on the transplant list,” says Watson.
She spent two years on that list.
After her July 2010 transplant, Watson made a remarkable recovery.
“I was immediately feeling better,” she says. So much so that while still in the hospital she began signing up organ donors. She had her first Live On NY event nine days after being discharged and hasn’t looked back.
“This is something you can do when you are alive; everyone knows someone on dialysis,” says Watson of organ donation.
There are over 118,000 Americans waiting for donations and 100,000 waiting for a kidney. The number one donation is skin and number one organ needed are kidneys.
New York state ranks last in the country for registered organ donors. There are currently 10,000 New Yorkers waiting for donors.
Some typical misconceptions about organ donations include religious objections and how the body will look if loved ones want to have an open-casket funeral.
“Every single religion supports it,” says Watson of organ donation. She assures potential donors that organ donations are not visible because they are taken from the back of the body.
People can register for organ donation through the Department of Motor Vehicles, voter registration or by going online at LongLiveNY.org.