NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Every 18 hours someone in New York dies waiting for an organ transplant. Religious concerns, language barriers and the unappealing subject of mortality make our area last in the country for organ donation.

But CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan spoke with one grateful recipient.

“[They] said your daughter is dying of heart failure, come say your goodbyes now,” Jennifer Lentini said.

Lentini was a baton-twirling 13-year-old at Hicksville Middle School when a virus invaded her heart. Her parents and the family priest were given word her only chance of survival was a heart transplant.

“(So you languished in the hospital for three months?) Yes, but I knew unfortunately someone had to pass away for me to live,” she said.

She said that as a child, it was difficult for her to comprehend and accept death that way.

At the same time, a courageous decision was made upstate by the family of Matthew Brannon, a 14-year-old who died suddenly.

Lentini was next on the organ donation list and a high stakes surgery replaced her heart with Brannon’s.

Now 32, Lentini was recently reunited in Florida with Matthew Brannon’s family where they were able to hear their son’s heart beating 18 years after his death.

“We wept over Matthew.  I just hugged her and she hugged me and we finally got to say thank you,” Lentini said.

Currently New York is in last place, ranking No. 50 notes Donate Life America. Unlike many other states, the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York requires an opt-in rather than opt-out and requires an organ donation signature very eight years.

Doctors say some families worry unnecessarily about red tape or that bodies will be desecrated.

“The beautiful thing about organ donation is that it does not have any type of barriers. It goes across all religious, racial barriers, ethic, gender barriers,” Dr. Ernesto Molmenti said.

“I live my life not just for myself but for Matthew, he is my guardian angel, donor families are angels and donors are the guardian angels,” Lentini said.

Just 24 percent of New Yorkers are registered organ donors, McLogan reported, while 10,0000 people across the state are waiting desperately for transplants, and some are running out of time.

You can register to become an organ donor when you visit the DMV, register to vote or at LongLiveNY.org.

April is Organ Donation Month.

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