The NJ Sharing Network Foundation is welcoming Yvonne Payne of Teaneck to its Board of Trustees – two years after she received a life-saving heart transplant.
Payne eagerly looks for opportunities to honor the memory of child actress Sammi Kane Kraft, whose tragic death in a 2012 California car crash meant a new heart and a new chance at life for Payne.
Payne lead a team at NJ Sharing Network’s 5K Walk and USATF-Certified Race on June 8, raising thousands of dollars for the life-saving mission.
“I am touched by the entire NJ Sharing Network organization,” Payne said. “I definitely want to help out and ensure as many people as possible know the importance of registering for organ donation, especially in the Black and Latino communities. I want to share my story with others and hope they can support this beautiful organization.”
Payne – wife of Fox Business Network contributor Charles Payne – is inspired by her heart donor, Sammi Kane Kraft. Kraft, whose real-life baseball skills landed her the starring role as a spunky pitching ace in the 2005 remake of “Bad News Bears,” died Oct. 9, 2012, at the age of 20.
Four days later, Payne underwent heart transplant surgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Today, the lively 56-year-old Teaneck woman is determined to give back something tangible to other people in need – including her service to the Foundation.
Payne recalls an “active and athletic childhood,” but rheumatic fever at age 13 left her with a weak heart and prone to fatigue due to arrhythmia. “I learned to cope and tried to be as active as possible as a teenager and young adult,” she said.
“My heart always seemed so noisy in my chest,” she recalled. In her mid-30s Payne was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, a potentially life-threatening rapid heartbeat that ultimately required her to get an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
“Doctors told me I would eventually need a heart transplant. That was a frightening idea, so I kept telling myself and everyone else that I’d be just fine,” Payne said. By 2011, her condition worsened and her bouts of exhaustion became more frequent.
Physicians at New York Presbyterian implanted a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in July 2012 to provide temporary relief. “An LVAD is a bridge-to-a-transplant until a heart is available,” said Payne, noting that her recovery and potentially long wait for a donor brought on “fear and depression.”
A personal phone call from former Vice President Dick Cheney helped lift Payne’s spirits. “It meant so much. Mr. Cheney had LVAD surgery too. He told me to have faith, stay strong and leave my depression behind,” said Payne, who had met Cheney once while visiting friends in Wyoming.
While the LVAD helped for a short while, her condition turned critical less than three months later when she developed a blood clot in the LVAD and doctors told her she needed an immediate heart transplant.
“I also needed a miracle,” Payne said. It came in an emotional phone call from Shelly and Lulu Kane Kraft – Sammi’s parents and friends of Payne’s husband, Charles. “They knew about my condition, kept me in their prayers and were calling to say they wanted their daughter’s passing to help me live,” she said.
Within 48 hours, the Paynes flew to Los Angeles and Yvonne underwent transplant surgery at Cedars Sinai. “The first thing I recall when I woke up after surgery was the quiet. It was the first time my heart was really ever silent,” she said.
Directed organ donation, which Payne underwent, is not normal for emergency situations and is considered rare. Most people receive the gift of donation from an anonymous donor. For directed organ donation, blood types must be compatible between donors and intended recipients.
Today, Payne is devoting time and energy to offer hope to others facing heart transplants and making a similar journey through her service with the NJ Sharing Network Foundation.
“Yvonne’s enthusiasm and commitment is an inspiration to us all,” said Elisse Glennon, executive director, NJ Sharing Network Foundation. “We are excited to be working with her. She is a dynamic person who will be instrumental in helping us achieve our goals. We are especially pleased about her commitment to outreach to minority communities and look forward to working closely with her in the coming months and years.”