Photo of Ralph Padilla courtesy of Facebook

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

VINELAND — Renown Latino leader and trailblazer Ralph Padilla is recovering in a Philadelphia hospital after receiving a life-saving liver transplant this week.

Padilla, the president and CEO of the South Jersey nonprofit Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey and former Salem County detective and mayor, went into surgery this week after battling with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD, according to PRAC board President Jose Sanchez Sr.

Padilla is recovering at the Jefferson/Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia, where he is in stable condition in their trauma/transplant Intensive Care Unit. 

Highlighting the great culture and leadership in South Jersey’s Hispanic community.

PRAC is just coming off its biggest fundraiser of the year in the Playero Latin Music Festival, which drew thousands to Wildwood for the two-day concert, considered one of the largest Latin music festivals in the region.

“We thank everyone that has prayed for him, churches that added him to their prayer list, the texts, inbox messages, calls and email from hundreds of family and friends,” family spokesman and son Ryan Padilla said in a statement released by PRAC on Thursday.

“Without this overwhelming spiritual support, I know we wouldn’t be where we are at with his improved health situation.”

Sanchez said Padilla has dealt with multiple surgical procedures, treatments and hospital stays because of the disease, which was diagnosed in 2013.

“But even with this challenge, Ralph has been a fearless warrior that led to PRAC expanding its mission, services, sites and staff at a historic pace,” Sanchez said. “We went from a Salem County organization to now having six sites set in the following counties Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Burlington and Salem.

“I like others close to Ralph have been humbled to see his continual efforts during this lengthy medical challenge at PRAC and his Civil Rights efforts here in New Jersey.”

Ryan Padilla said while the transplant was a “big step moving forward” in his father’s recovery, challenges still lie ahead. He said, true to form, the elder Padilla was talking about future plans less a day out of surgery.

“I know this man well and just 16 hours after his transplant surgery removed his endotracheal intubation tube in ICU, he was talking up a storm about upcoming weddings, our family reunion May of 2024, and a list of PRAC matters and his talking tour in 2024 ‘Pa’lante,’ with dates in multiple counties in New Jersey, the State of Delaware and Puerto Rico.

“I tell him ‘God willing’ and let’s get through this week for starters. He can. He will. Watch him.”

Sanchez said Padilla, a law enforcement detective by trade, had been calling for an independent investigation of the NJAOC and its operation of the Millville Court System. That led the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights to issue a finding that the court engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Latinos.

“Since the findings, the court was closed and matters are now held in Vineland and we are engaging the state to appoint a Latino Legal/Court Scholar to be the monitor of the Millville Court system.”

Ryan Padilla said the family wanted to thank his father’s primary care provider from Inspira Heath System Dr. Greg Steifel who had been the elder Padilla’s greatest supporter and medical leader as he navigated this complex medical journey.

“The medical teams at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and the team at Jefferson/Einstein under the direction of Dr. Victor Navarro from the Liver Center at Einstein and Dr. Radi Zaki the chief surgeon who led the transplant team,” Ryan Padilla said. “We thank everyone at the Jefferson/Einstein hospital that have been in involved with his care. 

“Most importantly, we pray for the soul of the donor and pray for the donor’s family members as they deal with the death of their loved one. This honorable person had made that decision to donate his organs in the event of death. I pray and thank this kind human being for his liver donation to my father. God speed sir.”

Padilla was the first Hispanic appointed to serve as the chief of a county prosecutor’s office in the state of New Jersey when he served in that post in Salem County in 2005. He was elected mayor of Pittsgrove in 2013, becoming the first Latino to serve as mayor in Salem County’s 100-year-plus history.

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