Heart transplant provides new outlook, inspiration on life
By Michael Wojcik
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.- John Trommelen makes certain to devote every Thursday to helping ease the fears of organ-transplant patients at Newark Beth Israel Hospital with simple gestures: a reassuring word or a hug.

But this 77-year-old parishioner of St. Bonaventure in Allegany, N.Y. here also calms the anxiety of these patients and their concerned families with help from his two “new” hearts — one physical, the other spiritual.

For several years, Trommelen has been traveling weekly to Beth Israel Hospital, where he speaks to patients at all stages of the organ-transplant process — those being evaluated for transplant; those waiting for an organ; those, who have received a transplant; and sadly even those unable to receive an organ. He volunteers for the hospital’s Hearty Hearts Program with a deep understanding about what these patients experience.

Trommelen too underwent a successful heart transplant there Aug. 3, 2004 — the date he describes as his rebirth, both physically and spiritually.

“I almost died,” said Trommelen, who retired as co-owner of an auto-parts store in 2002, having suffered over the years many health problems, including two open-heart surgeries, due to serious coronary disease, and a battle with skin cancer.

“I feel that I owe somebody something. God is saving me for something,” he said.

That lifesaving transplant ushered a spiritual “rebirth” in the always-active Trommelen — for an even greater commitment to service to others. He got more involved in ministries at the St. Bonaventure’s, especially those to benefit the poor; Knights of Columbus Council 240; Hearty Hearts program; and the Sharing Network of New Jersey, which promotes organ donation.

On any given Thursday, Trommelen brings his compassionate heart for God’s people to Beth Israel Hospital, where he talks to numerous patients, including some difficult cases. He finds it tough to counsel teen-age patients and to those who have been unable to get a new organ and eventually die.

Speaking with all these patients reminds this former south Paterson, N.J. resident of his experiences lying in a hospital bed, waiting for an available heart.

“Unlike many of these patients, I was not afraid (of transplant surgery). I had no alternative,” said Trommelen, who travels around Beth Israel Hospital with a team of other Hearty Heart volunteers, speaking with patients.

“We (volunteers) can tell these patients things that their doctors can’t tell them, unless they have had a transplant. One thing they’ll notice — with the new organ, they’ll feel better. They’ll also realize that they didn’t know just how sick they were,” he said.

Trommelen uses “his natural skills, enhanced by his own experience” that “make him an effective counselor for patients and their families. He answers questions, calms fears and eases anxieties,” said pastor of St. Bonaventure parish, Father Daniel Grigassy.

Forever thankful to the donor of his “new” heart, Trommelen in turn helps promote organ donation through the Sharing Network of New Jersey. He speaks at local churches, civic groups and businesses.

Over the years, Trommelen has opened his “new” heart to the poor by getting more involved in St. Bonaventure’s outreaches.

He commits himself to this urban parish’s food collection program, getting donations of countless bags of groceries and hundreds of turkeys and hams in time for the holidays. Also, he volunteers his carpentry skills to refurbish furniture, such as tables, podiums and kneelers in the church.

Trommelen also has deepened that sense of compassion during his 16 years in the Knights of Columbus. He has participated in the Citizens with Disabilities Drive and has chaired the council’s food drive and winter coat drive. Trommelen often sorts through piles of donated clothes — sometimes getting them dry cleaned — and then ships them to the Father English Community Center, St. Joseph Parish and Martin De Porres Village, all in Paterson. Also, the Knights have collected toys for needy children, said Trommelen.

“I help, because I feel that people need stuff,” said Trommelen, a past grand Knight of the council and former district deputy, who recently accepted an award from the N.J. Knights of Columbus in recognition of the council’s successful food drive.

“People are so good in helping us. We couldn’t do all this without them,” he said.

It’s no surprise that big-hearted compassion runs through the Trommelen family. His wife of 56 years, Jean, who works at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, remains active in charitable activities. So do their children: Mary Jane, Thomas, Lisa and Michael, and their grandchildren. Their son, John Jr., died Dec. 20, 1997 of heart disease, which also runs in the family. Trommelen quickly points out that many of his children and grandchildren have chosen careers of service as teachers, nurses, medical students, police officers and firefighters.

Earlier this year, Franciscan Father John O’Connor, provincial minister of Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor, conferred the Francis Medal upon Trommelen in appreciation for his selfless service to the friars and the people of the parish.

“I was surprised. Obviously, I don’t do any of this (charitable activities) for recognition,” Trommelen, a 17-year resident of Totowa, N.J., said about the award, which he received from Father Grigassy and Franciscan Father Christopher Van Haight of St. Bonaventure’s on April 21.

“We express our gratitude and appreciation to John, who unselfishly gives himself for the building up of the kingdom of God, for his dedication to the common good and especially for his care of the needy and the sick,” Father Grigassy and Father Van Haight wrote of Trommelen, in the parish bulletin.

This was not the first time Trommelen was recognized for his service to the Church and others. He also received the Vivere Christus Est Award from the Paterson Diocese last year.

“He has embodied the values of St. Francis of Assisi by putting himself last and the work of Christ first,” Father Grigassy said.

Posted with permission from The Beacon, official newspaper for the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

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