If more people agreed to donate their organs Megan Bottino's father might be alive today.
"There were so many people who could have saved his life," said Bottino, 18, of Absecon. "But people just don't know enough about organ donation."
Bottino and her brother, Joseph, decided to help raise awareness of organ donation soon after their father, Joseph, died in 2007 at the age of 42 after a long battle with Hepatitis C. He had been on a transplant list for a liver for almost a year, and had made it to the top of the list when he became too sick to be eligible.
That first year Megan and her brother, then 12 and 14 years old, raised $4,000 for the Gift of Life Foundation by selling wristbands and T-shirts. The T-shirts said Become a Donor and Save a Life.
The siblings continued to raise money and awareness, and this year Megan Bottino was awarded the Benjamin R. Chirls Scholarship from the NJ Sharing Network in cooperation with Donate Life New Jersey and the Gift of Life Donor Program. The $4,000 award was also presented to Joseph Bottino two years ago.
NJ Sharing Network is non-profit federally designated organization responsible for recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for New Jersey residents in need of transplants. The Gift of Life Donor program is a non-profit network that coordinates organ transplants.
A 2013 graduate of Holy Spirit High School, Megan Bottino has arranged for speakers to talk about organ donation at her school. She and her family also advocated for the New Jersey Hero Act which includes a requirement that high schools educate students about organ donation. Bottino attended the ceremony when Acting. Gov. Richard Codey signed the law.
The Bottino family also coordinates a play at the Ritz Theatre in Marlton each year, with proceeds going to the Gift of Life.
Charles Kistinger, a kidney recipient and NJ Sharing Network volunteer who chairs the scholarship committee, said Bottino's long-term advocacy and her academic work made her stand out from other candidates for the award.
"We were all so impressed with Megan's advocacy work as well as her grades and commitment," he said. "It is so painful to lose a loved one who has been waiting for a transplant. Megan turned that pain into advocacy to honor and remember her father and to save other lives."
The scholarship is named in memory of Benjamin Chirls, a kidney recipient and strong advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation.
Bottino said she plans to take her advocacy with her to college at Loyola University in Maryland, where she plans to study comparative cultures and pre-med and hopes to become a wildlife veterinarian.
Dianne Bottino, Megan and Joseph's mom, said her children don't really realize what an impact they have had.
"The scholarship was a nice way to recognize her, and her brother two years ago," she said.
Bottino said what motivated her was realizing that her father did not have to die.
"My brother and I realized this did not have to happen," she said. "But the main reason people don't (donate organs) is that they don't know enough about it."
Contact Diane D'Amico:
How to help
For more information about organ and tissue donation call the NJ Sharing Network at
800-742-7365 or visit NJSharingNetwork.org to register as an organ or tissue donor.