Sometimes the worst experiences of your life can turn into some of the most memorable. Rockland County resident Roxanne Watson remembers the day 11 years ago when she unknowingly had a heart attack.
Watson was working in a retail store at the time, unloading merchandise from a truck when she felt a twinge in her back. Thinking she’d pulled a muscle, Watson took the rest of the day easy, heading home to lie down and ease her back with some aspirin. She powered through persistent mild pain over the next six weeks, trying to go about her daily life, but the problem didn’t resolve itself. She finally turned to the Nyack Hospital Emergency Room for answers.
Following a series of tests, doctors confirmed that Watson had suffered a silent heart attack, meaning that she didn’t experience many of the typical symptoms associated with a heart attack. Watson was placed in cardiac care at Nyack, where more tests exposed that her heart was not only in distress, but it was failing. In 2008, she was referred to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, entering their advanced cardiac care program. Watson was placed on the heart transplant waitlist after nine days of inpatient evaluation.
It took two years for Watson to get to the top of the list, waiting there for another 104 days – 78 of which were spent in the hospital’s critical care unit. Three hearts became available within that time, though each was ultimately deemed incompatible. “I was running out of time,” said Watson. Finally in July 2010, four years after her heart attack, Watson received the gift of life – a heart from Michael Bovill, a 23-year-old United States Coast Guard fireman.
Watson only knew his age and sex, per transplant protocol, until 2011 when she was invited on Oprah Winfrey’s “Oprah’s All Stars” show to meet her donor’s family. Accompanied on stage by her son, Wastson learned that Bovill was on the George Washington Bridge when a truck hit his motorcycle, and he was killed. “That is now one of the most emotional and memorable days of my life,” Watson said. “It was amazing!” Four others received his organs, and two met his family later on.
Following her transplant, Watson realized her true calling: advocating for donor education. She wasted no time, jumping into her first advocacy event for National Minority Organ Donor Month almost immediately after. “As I waited for my transplant, I learned so much about the process and need for more organ donors that nine days after discharge, I did my first advocacy event,” said Watson.
And that was only the beginning. Watson worked with Senator Calucci, lobbying for “Lauren’s Law,” which requires that those applying for a driver’s license fill out the organ donor registry section, as well as the “Young Adult Law,” allowing for 16 and 17-year-olds to make organ donations with parental consent. Both laws were passed.
Now a culinary arts student at Rockland Community College, Watson continues to spread the word through events and travel. She’s signed up over 9,000 people, through the years, quickly approaching her goal of 10,000. “If one donor can impact over 50 lives, then our 9,000 will potentially help over 450,000 future lives,” said Watson. “I’m very proud that our country and many in the Hudson Valley have stepped up to save lives in a big way.”
This June, Watson will represent New York State at an American Heart Association conference in Washington D.C.
Meet more of our local heroes—and nominate your own—at www.hvmag.com/hvhero.