As it turned out, it was something. But it took a precarious and painful trip to the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania for him to learn just how close he had come to dying.
Had it not been the gift of life from a donor, Bonner would not be alive today.
Author of “Gifted: An Extraordinary Journey Through Illness and Liver Transplantation,” published in 2012, Bonner has tried to give others an inside look at what it feels like to go through the experience.
Receiving an organ from someone is a huge gift.
“It’s a gift bigger than me. It’s bigger than anything that anyone can do for another person. And as a recipient of a gift like that I am absolutely compelled to give back in hopes that I can one day earn that gift,” said Bonner, who has become a volunteer and public speaker advocating organ and tissue donation. He has spoken at hospitals, churches, synagogues, and before community organizations.
On Sat., Sept.14, between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Bonner will appear at the Bayonne Museum, 229 Broadway, to share his book. He will donate a percentage of the proceeds to a local organization that was formed to help promote organ donations.
Even though his transplant took place in 2005, Bonner’s struggle with liver disease began in 1997 when he developed digestive problems and was later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. In 2001 Bonner’s liver problems began. He was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Three years later, in Oct. of 2004, he was told he needed to be listed for a liver transplant. He was officially listed in Jan. 2005 and was transplanted in March of the same year at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
“I remember after I got out of the hospital, the first place I went was my father’s gravesite,” he said. “I said to him, ‘You’ve got to find my donor and shake his hand. You’ve got to thank him for me because I can’t.’”
Book with a message
Although Bonner moved to Bayonne in 1977 when he was four, his family had roots here. Recently, he purchased the original house his father grew up in and commutes to his job in Manhattan daily.
“I was 29 when I found out I needed a liver transplant, and got the transplant when I was 32,” he said. “It’s a good thing I got it young, because I’m 40 now.”
He said these operations get tougher the older a person is. But he feels very good.
“I feel incredible. I react well to the medication and I can live a normal life,” he said.
He works out at Fitness Forum, and his general fitness prior to surgery may well have contributed to the successful outcome of his transplant.
He said his book is mostly about hope.
“There are so many challenges we’re going to face in life, mentally, physically and emotionally; some we can’t even comprehend,” he said. “You need support whether you have someone like my beautiful wife, or religion might pull you through. It takes a concentrated effort, and I was fortunate to have a lot of support.”
He said his mission with the book and his book tour is to give that sort of hope to other people and encourage people through his own story. He said people can see how a bad situation can come out positively.
Usually when he does a tour he donates 50 percent of his book sales to a local organization, and in this case will be giving it to a fund that was organized around Jonathon Kuzminski, who was 20 months old when he died tragically in May 2011. The donation of his organs helped save the lives of other children.
The infant’s grandmother, Barbara Kuzminski, of Bayonne, has been working with The N.J. Sharing Network, the nonprofit organization responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for nearly 5,000 New Jersey residents awaiting lifesaving transplants.
Bonner hopes to make appearances elsewhere in Hudson County and the state in the near future, and work with other local groups.
His recovery is so complete, he needs only a yearly checkup with a doctor, and blood work done every three months.
“I have to stay away from alcohol, raw meat, or raw fish,” he said. This leaves out sushi, though he laughed and said sushi wasn’t that hard to give up.
“I think the angel of death and I had a staring contest waiting for one of us to blink,” he said. “But it doesn’t haunt me. It doesn’t scare me. I’ve been there.”
Doctors told him that if he hadn’t received the transplant when he did, he would not likely have survived another two weeks.
“That’s getting down to the wire,” he said. “This is my second chance at life. I want to help whoever else I can.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.