Families of organ donors got a chance to honor loved ones and share some of their stories during a "Hope for the Holidays" gathering at Marietta Memorial Hospital's Strecker Cancer Center Tuesday night. The event is an outreach program of Lifeline of Ohio that promotes tissue and organ donation.
Diane Carpenter, 52, of Summerfield said she's extremely proud of her firefighter husband, Mickey, who died suddenly of a stroke in July of this year. He was 54.
"He's still out there, though," she said. "He's living on in the lives of others whose lives he saved as an organ donor.
"And when I'm down I often think about maybe meeting someone someday who has benefitted from Mickey's gift," Carpenter said, adding that she also become an organ donor when renewing her drivers license this year.
Bill Padden, 55, of Cambridge knows what it's like to receive that gift of life. Twenty years ago doctors said he would only live a couple of months unless he had a liver transplant.
"At that time the operation was pretty experimental," he said, noting he was second on the list to receive the liver transplant, but was bumped up when it was discovered the donor organ was too large for the patient at the top of the list.
Organ donation at a glance
In 2010, 303 Ohioans shared the gift of life through organ donation at the time of their death. Through their generosity 901 individuals received a second chance at life through transplantation.
1,619 Ohioans gave improved quality of life to others through tissue donation last year.
In Ohio, more than 3,400 people - 800 in central Ohio - are waiting for an organ transplant at any time, and hundreds more await tissue transplants;
During 2010 in central and southern Ohio, 84 individuals shared the gift of life through organ donation and 332 through tissue donation.
A single donor potentially can save the lives of eight people and enhance the lives of up to 50 more by donating vital organs (heart, two lungs, two kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel) and tissue (corneas, bone, fascia, skin, veins and heart valves).
As of July 1, 2005, Ohioans have a new way to declare their wish to become a donor by registering online in the Ohio Donor Registry through www.lifelineofohio.org. Additionally, individuals may indicate their intentions when renewing their driver's license, or by completing a Donor Registry Enrollment Form available on line through the Lifeline of Ohio website.
Source: Lifeline of Ohio www.lifelineofohio.org
"I was very lucky," Padden said. "Because of that liver donor I've been able to do pretty much whatever I've wanted for the last 20 years, including being able to see my 10 nieces and nephews."
He's thankful every day for the life his liver donor gave him.
Tim Jones, 58, also from the Cambridge area, has had the privilege of meeting the family of the woman whose heart saved his life more than seven years ago.
"About six months after my transplant I wrote a letter to thank the donor's family through Lifeline," he said. "It was difficult-I must have thrown a hundred pages away before I got it right."
The names of donors and recipients are kept confidential, but Lifeline acts as a go-between for families who want to exchange letters, making sure the communications don't provide contact information about a donor or recipient.
Jones said he didn't receive an immediate reply, but he kept sending letters to the family.
"I just expressed my thanks and said we were continuing to pray for them," he said.
One December day, more than a year after his operation, Jones received a phone call from the donor's sister-in-law and learned his new heart had come from 46-year-old Patty Bruck of Columbus.
"She had died July 2, 2004," Jones said.
The Friday before Christmas, 2005, Jones and his wife finally met with members of Bruck's family at a Columbus restaurant.
"We were given a table in a far corner of the restaurant and for the next four-and-a-half hours we talked," Jones said.
Bruck's daughter, Lisa, was 19 when her mother died, and Jones said she wasn't with the family at that first meeting. It was a couple of years later, in 2007, when he finally met Lisa.
"And this year we were at her wedding," Jones said. "We were very honored to be there."
He said Bruck's family has told him he fits right in, and Jones has become fast friends with Patty's brother, Bob.
Jones and Padden now volunteer their time to help out Lifeline by giving talks about organ donation at schools and other venues.
"But the neat thing is, we've received organs, but we can also be organ donors now," Jones said.
Sue McDonald, director of critical care services at Marietta Memorial Hospital, said this is the second year for the Hope for the Holidays event in Marietta.
"We invite organ donor families to come in and share about their loved ones-their 'heroes'-who were organ donors," McDonald said. "But we also consider these families heroes, because they and their loved ones have saved people's lives."
She said across the U.S. an average of 18 patients die every day due to a lack of organ donations, and every 10 minutes someone is added to an organ recipient waiting list.
"One donor can save up to eight lives," said Kathy Warhola of Cambridge, a regional representative for Lifeline of Ohio.
"But the holidays can be especially tough for these donor families, so we're here to support them tonight," she said.
After a time of sharing and refreshments, the family members crafted ornaments that were later hung on a Hope for the Holidays tree in the MMH lobby.