From My Heart to Yours: An Introduction

When you envision your senior year of high school, heart disease doesn’t exactly come to mind. It isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 16, co-captain of your tennis team, and have never spent a night in the hospital. It shouldn’t happen when you don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have high cholesterol.  But even without the typical risk factors, heart disease knows no rules, and it happened to me when I least expected it.

While out at dinner with my parents, the world suddenly started spinning and I thought I would pass out. There were pressure pains in my chest and neck and it felt like my arms were made of lead. When the dizziness subsided, I assumed it was an allergic reaction to the food, a minor passing episode. Until an ambulance took me to a local hospital and a cardiologist said the dreaded words:

“Massive heart attack.”

A blood clot had lodged in the artery leading to the left side of my heart was completely blocking blood flow. I had a 20-30% chance of dying right then. At a second hospital, I was crashing. My lungs were filling up with fluid, and the Last Rites were said for me because I wasn’t expected to live through the night.

Doctors managed to stabilize me in time to take me to a third hospital in hopes of having a heart transplant as a last resort. With a critical shortage of organs and tens of thousands of people waiting, no hearts could save me. They implanted a then-experimental Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to pump the left side of my heart via battery power while I waited in hope for a transplant. Additional complications forced doctors to amputate my left leg in order to save my life.

Jessica Hospital Post Transplant

It was time to reclaim my life and face a new reality. After six weeks in the hospital, I returned to school and kept myself as busy as possible with classes, friends, and school activities. Nine months later, just days before my graduation ceremony, I received my second chance at life: a heart from an 18 year old named Shannon. Three months later, I was able to start Princeton University on time, and I went on to work in the organ donation field to help the many others still in need of a life-saving organ.

When Michelle and Yuki were co-founding Harboring Hearts, I became an original founding member and now serve on the Board of Directors. Harboring Hearts’ mission resonated deeply with me, thinking back to the many sleepless nights my parents spent by my side. They didn’t miss one night, often sleeping in my hospital room, and their support made such a huge difference in my recovery.  There are so many other families in need of the emotional and financial assistance that Harboring Hearts provides. I’m honored to share my story in an ongoing blog series to help give voice to the patient experience and address different topics that we often face. I look forward to getting to know you in the coming months!

Lopez Family NYP

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Spotlighting Our Super Volunteers!

We have been so fortunate to be able to work with such compassionate people. We know we have said this multiple times before, but we really mean it!  Without the help and support from our amazing volunteers, we would not be where we are today.  Thank you!

Read about four of our Super Volunteers: Jessica Melore, Liz Pugatch, Megan Sterrett Sullivan, and Sara Anderson.

Name – Jessica Melore

Current Occupation – Senior Education & Programs Manager, NJ Organ and Tissue Sharing Network; Board of Directors – Harboring Hearts

How and why did you get involved with Harboring Hearts? – Michelle Javian and I met through mutual friends and realized that we had a lot in common–that her father and I had both received heart transplants–and she told me about how she was in the process of starting Harboring Hearts with Yuki. I understood from a patient perspective that having loved ones there for you makes a huge difference in your mentality and healing–my parents slept every night in my hospital room. I’d met so many other families in need, so I was very excited about Harboring Hearts’ mission and helping Michelle and Yuki grow it.

How do you balance your career and giving back so successfully? – For me, it’s a matter of making what I’m passionate about a priority in my life. Fortunately in my career I can promote organ and tissue donation on a daily basis, but helping others cope with the effects of heart disease and promoting prevention is also very important to me. I dedicate certain evenings and time during the weekends for Harboring Hearts and my other advocacy work, and schedule calls on my morning commute. Aside from that, charity events also offer a great opportunity to get together with friends and support a great cause at the same time.

Who or what have been your greatest inspirations in your life, your career, and your volunteer experience? – My parents are the reason I’m here today. I think watching someone go through a traumatic event is much harder than experiencing it yourself, and their strength is unimaginable. I was so grateful that they were there to support me and encourage me to continue pursuing my ambitions, even in midst of uncertainty as I waited for a heart transplant. There are so many other patients out there dependent on that kind of support, so many family members sleeping on hard hospital chairs night after night. Through Harboring Hearts, I want to ensure that loved ones can be there for patients when they need them most.

What are your favorite memories about Harboring Hearts? – My favorite memories are always our events with the families–especially when we did a fundraiser for Johan and Tariq Lopez, 4 year-old heart transplant recipients with a mother who was struggling to get by. It was also very meaningful to be at the NY Presbyterian hospital event and have a chance to connect with the families there in need of our help. I hope that in seeing Michelle and Yuki from a care-giver perspective and me from a patient perspective, it would inspire them to know that they can make it through.

Your Favorites:

  • Favorite city : New York
  • Favorite food : Pecan Pie sundae at Buttermilk Channel
  • Favorite activity: A tie between restaurants and concerts
  • Favorite music: Arcade Fire
  • Favorite museum: Dali Museum in Figueres
  • Favorite travel destination: Costa Rica
  • Favorite book: Anything involving David Sedaris
  • Favorite movie: Amelie


Name – Liz Pugatch

Current Occupation – Event Planner at DS Consulting Group

How and why did you get involved with Harboring Hearts? – I got involved originally to help Yuki, a great friend of mine from UVa, but I quickly came to realize that it’s not only Yuki I was helping, but all of the patients and families that Harboring Hearts has helped and will continue to help for years to come. Yuki and Michelle are so dedicated to this amazing cause, and I am proud to be able to help in any way that I can.

How do you balance your career and giving back so successfully? – My career is about giving back.  As a non-profit event planner, I work with these organizations to plan their annual galas and ensure that they reach their fundraising goals so that they can continue to help those who depend on them.

Who or what have been your greatest inspirations in your life, your career, and your volunteer experience? – My parents, absolutely.  All my life they have both been so dedicated to non-profit work and I have seen how their efforts have benefited so many.  It really made me want to get involved and give my time to organizations that I care about, and being able to see Harboring Hearts grow as a charity and help more and more families has been extremely rewarding.

What are your favorite memories about Harboring Hearts? – This might sound crazy, but one of my favorite Harboring Hearts moments was one of the very first meetings we ever had as an organization. We met at Whole Foods; and with our notepads and pens, we talked about how to get this charity off the ground and get the mission out to those in need. We were all so optimistic and excited about the challenge, and I when I look back at that meeting, and how far Michelle and Yuki and the entire Harboring Hearts team have taken this organization, I am honored to be able to say that I am a part of it!

Your Favorites:

  • Favorite city – NYC!
  • Favorite food – super fresh sushi
  • Favorite activity – movie marathons with friends, cooking, skiing, and shopping
  • Favorite music – Christmas Music 🙂
  • Favorite museum – MoMA
  • Favorite travel destination – I love to ski in Aspen
  • Favorite book – It’s a tie between The Help and Water for Elephants
  • Favorite movie – Wow, tough one…Love Actually, Top Gun, Under the Tuscan Sun, Little Women, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Father of the Bride (I and II) and so many more!


Name – Megan Sterrett Sullivan

Current Occupation – Principal at Doshi Capital Partners / Heritage Capital India; an Investment Management Firm; Board of Director – Harboring Hearts

How and why did you get involved with Harboring Hearts? – I got involved with Harboring Hearts to help spread the word about heart disease and help the many families in need.

How do you balance your career and giving back so successfully? – When you really care for something you make time. With my career I have a busy travel schedule; Harboring Hearts give me something to look forward to when away.

Who or what have been your greatest inspirations in your life, your career, and your volunteer experience? – My family has been my greatest inspiration. They are always pushing for me to work as hard as I can.  Good things come to those with persistence.

What are your favorite memories about Harboring Hearts? – Seeing the benefits that Harboring Hearts has on families and seeing how happy families get when we are able to help.

Your Favorites:

  • Favorite US City – San Francisco
  • Favorite food  – Pizza
  • Favorite activity – Cooking, Running, Reading
  • Favorite music – Cold Play, Mumford and Sons, Adele, Sting
  • Favorite museum – The Whitney & the Frick
  • Favorite travel destination – St. Barths
  • Favorite book – Pride & Prejudice and Decision Points
  • Favorite movie – Pretty Woman


Name – Sara Anderson

Current Occupation – Graduate Student, Masters of Architecture, University of Michigan

How and why did you get involved with Harboring Hearts? – As a friend of Yuki’s from University of Virginia, I became aware of Harboring Heart’s mission. I was interested in supporting both the cause and my friend’s effort. I volunteered to make myself useful to Harboring Hearts in any way that I could.

How do you balance your career and giving back so successfully? – I stay involved with activities that I really care about so that I am dedicated to making the time for them. I feel very lucky for what I have in life, so I am happy to make time to help others.

Who or what have been your greatest inspirations in your life, your career, and your volunteer experience? – My family has always been a great inspiration in all of these areas. My parents set an example of volunteering their time for the community. They have also always supported and encouraged me in everything I have done.

What are your favorite memories about Harboring Hearts? – Meeting some the children that Harboring Hearts has helped face to face is a great memory. It’s nice to be able to see what the results of Harboring Heart’s efforts. I have also met a lot of wonderful people who also volunteer their time to Harboring Hearts.

Your Favorites:

  • Favorite city – Boston
  • Favorite food – Anything Italian
  • Favorite activity – Cooking
  • Favorite music – Anything, not too picky
  • Favorite museum – Musee D’Orsay
  • Favorite travel destination – Italy
  • Favorite book – Pride and Prejudice
  • Favorite movie – The Shawshank Redemption