South Fla. father raises organ donation awareness, calls son 'walking miracle'

Sunday's run at Charnow Park in Hollywood supports organ donation

This is a picture of Justin Nagelbush on the eve of his liver transplant in August 2003.
This is a picture of Justin Nagelbush on the eve of his liver transplant in August 2003.

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Every day, 18 people in the United States die waiting for an organ transplant.
A South Florida boy was one of the lucky ones.

"He's a walking miracle," said Joel Nagelbush of his son, Justin.

Eleven years ago Justin was born premature, but his parents and doctors believed he was otherwise healthy.

"At Justin's 3-month check up, the doctor's doing the echo on his liver and said, 'You have to go to Miami,'" said Nagelbush. "We show up at Jackson (Memorial Hospital) and the guy took 10 minutes and said he's going to need a transplant."

For weeks, the family waited anxiously.

"Doctors were coming in and telling us about time tables, how much longer," said Nagelbush. "We got to a point where we just asked them not to. We said, 'Please, it's not helping us.'"

On Aug. 7, 2003, Justin received the gift of life -- a liver from a 10-year-old drowning victim in Tampa.

"The liver that they put in Justin was bigger than they would have liked, but it was the only one they had," said Nagelbush.

Over the years, Nagelbush has been driven by a desire to give back.

"And Donate Life came around and the Donate Life Alliance, and being able to talk to people and impact organ donation is a game changer," said Nagelbush.

For those who hesitate to sign that donor card, Nagelbush asks them to think long and hard about the difference they could make.

"Every person that donates saves eight lives and impacts another 200 with tissue," said Nagelbush. "What else are we going to do in our life to have that impact?"

A 5K run this weekend is intended to raise awareness.

The run will take place at Charnow Park in Hollywood from 7:30-10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Runners can register at http://www.splitsecondtiming.com/run-4-life-5k-2014.

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