A Mother's Journey with Loss and Hope
Heather Prutzman lost her 25-year-old son Joseph Savage from a motor vehicle accident in October 2017. “He was my only child and It’s always tough to lose a child in general,” Heather says. “But not to have any other children has been incredibly hard for me.”
Joey was always an incredibly outgoing individual from the moment he was born. “He was always the type where he would either go big or go home,” Heather says. And it’s apparent Joey possessed that mindset at a young age. Joey spoke with his mother about being an organ donor when he registered for a driver's license at 17 years old. During that discussion, Joey turned to her with a smirk and said, “After all I’m JSAV. Why wouldn’t I want that on my driver’s license?”. JSAV has been Joey's nickname since he was in elementary school. He has been so popular since he was little and he still continues to be and referred to as JSAV. In fact, our team name for the NJSN 5k is Team JSAV33. The number 33 represents his football jersey number which he had since he started playing when he was 8 years old.
That selflessness perfectly describes Joey’s colorful personality. Since his death, Joey’s donations have made its way to a number of recipients. His heart, two kidneys and liver have all breathed new life into multiple people, and his corneas even brought the gift of sight back to two men. Heather wrote to Joey’s recipients, but prayed to hear back from one more than any other — the man who received his heart.
Joey’s heart recipient was the first to write back, and Heather says it “was just like we always knew each other.” However, Joey’s gift of life impacted more than just those individuals. Over 120 additional recipients of bone, skin, and corneas received Joey’s gifts with Heather herself becoming one of his recipients in 2019. Heather was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — an illness where cancer cells accumulate in bone marrow — in June 2018, and the days since her diagnosis have been challenging. She explained how she has a history of back complications and how her cancer diagnosis worsened those symptoms.
“I have been in excruciating pain the whole year,” Heather says. I was in so much pain I was crawling on the floor.” Heather had six cervical fusions, and decided to call the NJ Sharing Network to reach out about Joey’s remaining tissue grafts prior to her lumbar fusion. The NJ Sharing Network reached out to MTF Biologics and there were only three left at the time. And her surgeon Dr. George Naseef understood the importance of Joey’s donation to his mother. “I just can’t say enough about Dr. Naseef... he’s just amazing,” Heather says. “He’s just another angel here on earth, because I’m walking because of him. He was a piece of the puzzle that helped me get better.”
Heather believes Joey gifted her the mobility in her back, knowing her love for riding and horses. She can now work toward returning to her love for equestrianism and her western pleasure horse, Gambler, who Heather’s “Florida family” gifted her a year before her diagnosis.
“Joey saved so many lives and he did that on his own,” Heather says. “I think about all these people waiting, hoping, praying and fighting to stay alive. He’s given me my quality of life back and I need to enjoy that as long as I possibly can.” Heather hopes to be back on the saddle after completing physical therapy, and looks forward to returning to the water to fish with her husband John.
“I would tell Joey he’s my hero,” Heather says. “I had his back for 25 years and now he’s got his mama’s back. He will always be my greatest accomplishment and there are not enough words to describe how proud I am of him. I am so beyond honored to be his mother, and I believe this was Joey’s gift to me to help me. To say, ‘keep going mom. You got this.’”