Thursday, April 21, 2016


April is National Donate Life Month to bring awareness to the need for more people to sign up to be organ donors. As of today there are 120,969 people waiting for a life saving transplant, so this annual effort at raising awareness and getting more people to become donors is so important.

There are many activities going on all month long across the country and it's wonderful to see so many people involved in different events to help raise awareness.

This week, my hospital (Loyola University Medical Center) has an information table set up where individuals could stop, ask questions, sign up as a donor. I volunteered to work the table for a bit on Tuesday and it was the most rewarding experience I've had in a very long time. The table was staffed with all volunteers but of those, I was the only Lung Transplant recipient. While I was there a man in a wheel chair on oxygen and with his wife and daughter came to the table. He was SO thankful to be able to talk to a lung transplant recipient who has been through it, who also had the same procedure he is going to have. His wife was crying as we hugged and she thanked me for talking to them. Thanking me! I should be thanking them! It was a wonderful moment.

Me Volunteering at the #NationalDonateLife #organdonation sign up table.

Today was our Annual Candle Lighting Ceremony held each year during this month in memory and thanksgiving to those who have given life to others through organ donation. 

This year, I wanted to do something special to honor my donor and donor family at the Candle Lighting.  I have written to my donor family and received a letter in reply from them last year, so I now know the first name of my organ donor. I contacted UNOS and requested someone take a picture of my donor's name from the Wall of Names at the UNOS National Donor Memorial Gardens at their corporate headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. I framed the picture of his name and took it with me to the Candle Lighting Ceremony to honor him and his family for giving me the ultimate Gift of Life.

Photo of my Donor's Name from the National Donor Memorial

This was the 25th Annual Candle Lighting at Loyola and it's always a very moving and emotional event. Tonight's highlight was the first speaker and Special Honoree, Dr. Susan Hou. Dr. Hou is believed to be the only transplant physician in history to be both an organ donor and organ recipient. To hear her speak was very special and moving. And she's still going strong. 

Dr. Susan Hou Speaking

I feel that once you have a transplant, you are part of a very special family. I feel a kinship with other recipients and we share our stories with each other and all of us talks about our donor and donor family. The medical staff treats us all like family, readily giving hugs to all of their patients. It's a special group of people.

Me and my Amazing Nurse Practitioner Erin!

To me, the most moving part of the program is the actual Candle Lighting! The ceremony begins with any transplant recipient, persons waiting for a transplant or family members of donors light a candle in memory for all those that have given life to others through organ donation. As I walked up toward the altar to take my candle, I carried my donor's name with me, lit my candle and added it to the other candles, I touched my donor's name in his memory and to honor him and his family. 

This was a very special evening for me and, I am sure, for everyone in attendance. While I don't need reminding that someone gave me the ultimate Gift of Life, it is appropriate that we take time every year - for 25 years now - to set aside a day where we make sure to honor our donors and donor families who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could live.

Candle Lighting Ceremony Video

The depth of my gratitude to my donor and donor family is immeasurable. I also want to acknowledge the Loyola Medical Team who worked tirelessly to save my life and continue to make sure all goes well. 

This poem was in the Ceremony Program and it touched me, so I want to share it to honor all organ donors and their families.

A limb has fallen from the family tree.
I keep hearing a voice that says, "Grieve not for me.
Remember the best times, the laughter, the song.
The good life I lived while I was strong.
Continue my heritage, I'm counting on you.
Keep smiling and surely the sun will shine through.
My mind is at ease, my soul is at rest.
Remembering all, how I truly was blessed.
Continue traditions, no matter how small.
Go on with your life, don't worry about falls.
I miss you all dearly, so keep up your chin.
Until the day comes we're together again.

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