NEW YORK -- Like most New Yorkers, Sal Lopizzo never gave organ donation much thought.
"I never really understood the need for it and there were always so many myths about it," said Lopizzo, 65, who lives in the Rockway section of Queens. "I never really took it too seriously because it didn’t affect me."
That outlook changed in 2000 when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with hepatitis C. "I was working in healthcare business at the time and had just received new health insurance, and figured I'd take a visit to the doctor," he said. After performing a battery of basic tests and blood work, doctors discovered Lopizzo had contracted the potentially deadly disease.
"There was no cure at the time, but Columbia University was doing a pilot project with a couple drugs and I volunteered to get involved," he said. After years of chemotherapy and other drugs, Lopizzo was slowly losing his battle with the disease. "I got to the point where I had full failure of the liver and ended up with cancer," he said. With limited treatment options available, he was placed on an organ donation list and patiently waited for an unknown savior.
The nearly three years that followed were filled with hope, anxiety and two false alarms. However, Lopizzo ultimately found a match. After undergoing surgery and a successful liver transplantation, he's back to living his life better than ever before. "I feel great," he said.
Since receiving a second chance at life, Lopizzo has made it his mission to educate New Yorkers about the life-saving benefits of organ donation. "I try to give back the best I can," he said. "What was I saved for? It wasn’t to just sit in a bar,” he joked.
Every month Lopizzo travels to DMVs, hospitals and other community events across the area to share his survival story and encourage others to consider saving a life through donation. "Unfortunately, New York is the last state in the country for organ donation," he said. "If you apply in Florida, for instance, your wait may only be two months. But for some reason, we aren't donating here."
Working with organizations such LiveOnNY, he's hoping to show New Yorkers how easy it is to register as a donor. Interested donors are able to check the organ donation box on any DMV application, register directly online or can do so through Health Benefits Exchange.
"One person can save another person’s life, and that person can affect other lives [too]," said Lopizzo. "A lot of people can be impacted with the donation of one organ."
For more information on how to register as an organ donation, visit LiveOnNY's website.