Once a housewife of a pro basketball player in Europe, Roxanne Watson attended college, went into retail sales, and joined the executive management team. She discovered she had a knack for turning around failing locations.
“Every place I went, I always had one of the top five in the company in total sales,” she said, listing toy, clothing and department stores where her formula worked. “Once your associates know you care about them, they’re going to work for you.”
The Silent Heart Attack
In 2006, while at work, Roxanne, felt a sharp twinge in her side. Weeks later, the pain drove her to seek medical attention at an emergency room. Thinking she had pulled a muscle, she learned that six weeks earlier she had suffered a “silent heart attack”. It was the beginning of a four-year journey that included countless hospitalizations and procedures.
In a February 2019, the American Heart Association CEO, Nancy Brown, revealed in an AHA article more about Roxanne’s heart condition, “Roxanne was a teenager when her mom had the first of several heart attacks. Other women in the family had heart problems, too. Yet Roxanne was in her 50s without any problems. She figured she was in the clear.”
The diagnosis she received in the emergency room changed everything. At 52, Roxanne shriveled from 155 pounds to 95, spending two years on the transplant waiting list. Once an active, vibrant woman who had traveled the world she now was in a fight for her life. Her final 104 days on the transplant waiting list was spent in a hospital.
The Long Journey
Roxanne described the first leg of her journey in the interview conducted by the American Heart Association, “I was immediately placed in cardiac care and did not return to work. I began monthly — and sometimes weekly — visits to a local cardiac group for extensive care. My heart was not getting any better and in June 2008, my group sent me to NYC Montefiore Advanced Cardiac Program for evaluation. After nine days of evaluation and 16 doctors, Dr. Julia Shin placed me on the heart transplant list. She explained that I would not need a heart immediately but that my heart would eventually fail as it was deteriorating fast.
In late 2009, I began rapidly losing weight. By April 2010, I weighed 95 pounds. I was admitted to begin the final wait. I was told the wait would probably not be too long, but little did I know the long arduous journey I was facing. In the span of 78 days, I had three possible matches, but none were perfect.”
Michael’s Heroic Act
The perfect match came on July 16, 2010. United States Coast Guard (E3 Fireman) Michael Blain Bovill, a registered organ donor, passed away suddenly in a motorcycle accident on the George Washington Bridge in New York City.
Roxanne describes Michael’s heroic act as an organ donor, “He saved five lives with his entire donation. A 7-year-old Hispanic girl with his kidney; an 18-year-old black teenager with his other kidney; a 42-year-old Jewish man with his lungs; a 62-year-old Chinese man with his liver, and me with his beautiful heart.”
Roxanne’s first opportunity to meet Michael’s family was when they all appeared on Ask Oprahs’ Allstars Show. Today, she continues to share a special bond with his family.
After her hospital discharge, Watson became an organ donor advocate, using skills honed as a retail executive, she set out to spread the message and encourage people to sign-up to become an organ donor. Wherever she appeared, she carried with her a framed picture of Michael.
11,000 Registered Donors and Counting!
Drawing on her experience as a retail executive, Roxanne crunched the numbers and made a list of places she could find potential donors. She found them at .U.S. naturalization ceremonies, blood drives, conferences, community events, wherever there were large crowds gathered, Roxanne was there with her picture of Michael. She quickly surpassed her first goal of 1,000 registrations and began setting bigger targets and finding creative ways to reach them.
In April 2019, Roxanne registered her 11,000th person to New York’s organ and tissue transplant registry. For her, it’s a matter of demonstrating her gratitude to the man who gave her a second chance at life by encouraging others to sign up to do the same.
Now in her ninth year with a new heart, Roxanne is expanding her outreach with her new, upcoming radio show, Michael’s Gifts, on WRCR 1700 AM NY.
More About Roxanne Watson
Roxanne is a guest contributor on HuffPost. She received special recognition in 2018 from the New York State Senate. In 2017 she was a featured guest on George to the Rescue Show and is the 2016 recipient of the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award for her in-depth article, “What a Silent Heart Attack Sounds Like”
About the National Foundation for Transplants
The National Foundation for Transplants has helped thousands of patients receive a second chance at life. If you are in need of a transplant, find out how we can assist you, or make a donation to support our work. Have you considered becoming a Living Donor? We help bridge gaps in financial coverage, learn how.