A recent high school graduate working to advocate for organ and tissue donation after her father died waiting for a transplant has won the prestigious Benjamin R. Chirls Scholarship, provided by the NJ Sharing Network Foundation in cooperation with Donate Life New Jersey and Gift of Life Donor Program.
In a ceremony today, the $4,000 scholarship was given to Megan Bottino, a graduate of Holy Spirit High School in Absecon who will attend Loyola University Maryland in the fall.
"Receiving this award is an honor and tribute to my father," Megan Bottino, of Absecon, said. "My support for organ donation has been such a big part of my life. To know that the work I have done may help save the life of someone else's father or loved one continues to motivate me."
Megan's father Joe Bottino Jr. died at the age of 42 while waiting for a liver transplant. Megan was 12 years old at the time and almost immediately set out, with her brother, to raise funds to support organ donation and transplantation. She also arranged for speakers to come to her school to talk to students about organ donation.
In addition, Megan and her family advocated for the New Jersey Hero Act, which includes a requirement that high schools educate students about organ donation. Megan was present when Acting Gov. Richard Codey signed the law.
Megan said her father worked nights at an Atlantic City casino restaurant and frequently was home during the days to spend time with her and her brother.
She said she wanted to tell her family's story to drive home the need for more organ donors. She has worked with both Gift of Life Donor Program, the organ and tissue sharing program that covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware, and NJ Sharing Network, which covers central and northern New Jersey.
Charles Kistinger, a kidney recipient, long-time NJ Sharing Network volunteer advocating for organ and tissue donation, and chair of the scholarship committee, said Megan's long-term advocacy as well as her grades made her stand out from other candidates.
"We were all so impressed with Megan's advocacy work as well as her grades and commitment," Kistinger 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."
Presented annually to an organ, tissue or eye donor, transplant recipient, donor family member or awareness advocate, the Benjamin R. Chirls Scholarship is named in memory of Benjamin Chirls, a kidney recipient and strong advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation.
"Ben worked tirelessly for many years, ignoring both physical limitations and disabilities, to bring the message of donation to individuals throughout New Jersey as a volunteer for NJ Sharing Network," said Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation. "Presenting the Benjamin R. Chirls scholarship to a young person who mirrors his commitment to organ donation awareness allows us to honor Ben's legacy."
To learn more about organ and tissue donation or to get involved with NJ Sharing Network call 1-800-742-7365 or visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org to register as an organ and tissue donor.