At just 6 months old, Chris Piccininni received a heart transplant in order to survive a condition that was making his own heart unable to pump enough blood.

Dec. 13, 2021 marks 20 years since that life-saving procedure, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology junior is still going strong, studying biomedical engineering, living a healthy and active lifestyle.

"I don't really know any different," Chris told New Jersey 101.5. "I feel healthy, I feel great."

The 20-year-old still has to wake up at a certain time each day in order to take his medication. Twelve hours later, he has to take his meds again.

And around this time each year, he feels the urge to advocate for organ and tissue donation — someone else had to make a decision decades ago in order to give Chris another 20 years of life.

Nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are waiting for a life-saving transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. One donor can save eight lives and enhance the lives of over 75 people, NJ Sharing Network noted, and every three days, one person in New Jersey dies waiting for a transplant.

This year, Christopher's father took an extra step — many of them, actually — to honor his son's journey and shine a light on the need for donors. Frank Piccininni, of Fair Lawn, ran his own full marathon through local neighborhoods and paths, sparking a campaign to raise more than $4,700 for the Sharing Network Foundation and the Hearts for Emma Partner Fund (Chris is a recipient of a Hearts for Emma scholarship). Frank was met at the finish line by his wife, sons Chris and Ryan, and many other loved ones.

"Christopher was given a second chance at life when he received a heart transplant in December 2001," Frank said. "His life is a daily reminder of the power of organ and tissue donation and transplantation."

Individuals can register to donate their organs and tissues for transplant or medical research when applying for or renewing their New Jersey driver license or non-driver identification card. Individuals can also fill out the "binding, legal document of gift" at this link.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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