‘Dream Became Reality’: Linden Firefighter Inspires With Organ Transplant Story

A Linden firefighter is opening up about his heart transplant in an effort to raise awareness toward the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Knowing heart disease runs in his family, Mathew Pribish went in for a routine cardiology checkup more than a decade ago.

“I wanted to make sure that, as a firefighter, my heart was healthy,” Pribish said.

During one of those checkups, the firefighter was told that he has Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, joints and other parts of the body.

In 2013, after being monitored for a few years, Pribish’s aortic root had become enlarged to the point that he needed replacement surgery. 

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Linden firefighter Matthew Pribish

NJ Sharing Network

Although the surgery went well, the firefighter suffered an adverse reaction and went into advanced heart failure. 

“The doctors made the decision to implant a Centrimag BiVad, an external device to pump both sides of my heart,” he said. 

“After a couple of weeks, my heart healed enough to remove the device and implant an LVAD-Left Ventricular Assist Device.” 

That would become Pribish’s lifeline for four years as he was placed on the New York heart transplant list.

Life with an LVAD wasn’t easy for Pribish. He wasn’t allowed to swim. Physical activity was limited. And medication was bountiful.

“Thankfully, with my family, my fire department family and my doctors, I was able to forge through into this new normal, he said. 

“I was able to return to work for the fire department as an Administrator and Fire Inspector. I started to walk/jog in local 5K events in a healthy condition so that I would be a perfect candidate for transplant.”

In 2017, Pribish’s cardiologist recommended that he also be put onto the New Jersey transplant list. 

In the time leading up to his approval on the New Jersey transplant list, the alarm of Pribish’s LVAD device started to sound, on and off. 

The team of doctors decided that it was a mechanical issue and that they would either need to either replace the LVAD or Pribish me in the hospital for transplant.

On June 22, 2017, Pribish was informed by Newark Beth Israel Medical Center that he was officially listed on the New Jersey list. 

It was just four days later, that his wife got the phone call she had been waiting for, early in the morning.

“There were so many emotions that day,” the firefighter said. 

“I felt happy and thankful that I now had hope that my health could be restored. I also felt a great deal of sadness for the family that lost their loved one.”

On June 27, 2017, Pribish had a successful LVAD removal/Heart Transplant.

“Since my transplant, I have been blessed to return to the life I had known before,” he said. “In my donor’s memory, I decided to become a transplant advocate through NJ Sharing Network.”

In Fall 2018, Pribish was released by the doctors to return to full firefighting duties.

On Jan. 3, 2019, he officially returned to the fire department for my first day back at the position he left nearly six years prior.

“I never thought that the day would come where I could return back to active duty,” the firefighter said. “But thanks to my donor, my doctors, and NJ Sharing Network, this dream became a reality. 

“I hope that my story can give hope to others that may need a transplant to inspire them to keep the faith.”

NJ Sharing Network is the federally designated non-profit organization responsible for recovering organs and tissue for the nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents currently waiting for a life-saving transplant. 

With headquarters in New Providence, NJ, the organization is part of the national recovery system, serving the 110,000 people on the national waiting list. NJ Sharing Network was selected by NJBiz as one of the state’s “Best Places to Work” for the third consecutive year. 

To learn more, get involved and register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.

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