A Champion for Donation

While Ben Anderson has not had a personal experience with organ donation and transplantation, the Okaloosa County Tax Collector and his employees are committed completely to the cause.

“It’s such an honor to participate in the Donate Life program in Florida,” said Anderson. “It’s one of the most incredible programs that our government office has the opportunity to participate in. It’s a great honor to be able to encourage our customers to share in a way that can improve and add quality to the lives of others.”

Interviews that Anderson has done with organ and tissue recipients run throughout the day on the closed-circuit TV monitors in their offices, so customers waiting to be served see and hear the donation message as they wait.

Anderson says one of the reasons he and his staff are so dedicated to the cause is because the need now has a face.

“Okaloosa County has those that have received heart transplants, liver transplants, and what we see and understand is that these are neighbors of ours,” he said. ‘Where we saw the quality of their lives in absolute decline, through organ and tissue donation, they’ve been refreshed and given new life.”

When the employees began to see that the people they served were often the same people in need of a life-saving, or life-improving transplant, it became even more real to them.

“All of us realized that it wasn’t just an opportunity to participate in a great cause, but actually to reach into the community and help those that we serve every day,” Anderson said.

The Okaloosa County Tax Collector’s office is routinely among the top five counties in Florida in the percentage of their customers who register to be donors, which averages 67 percent – almost 20 percent higher than the national average.


Outreach for Donor Families

October 23, 2017: There were a record-breaking number of organ transplants performed in 2016 and a record number of individuals who gave the Gift of Life. A total of 33,600 patients received the Gift of Life from 15,945 generous organ donors. That is 92 people each day whose lives were saved because another person or their family said yes to donation. In our service area, 160 individuals provided 515 gifts for those in need.

While one family celebrates receiving the Gift of Life, we cannot lose sight that another is mourning the loss of a loved one. As caregivers in the field of organ procurement, the staff at LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services, the organ donor program serving all of northern Florida, has a unique and special opportunity to provide comfort to donor families during one of the most traumatic events of their lives.

“Our main goal is to present the option of organ donation and give an alternative to a horrible situation,” said Allyson Krause, LifeQuest Clinical Coordinator. “Once the recovery operation is complete, that’s not the end of the story.”

To help families heal following their loss, we provide memorial baskets to honor the generous legacies of their loved ones. We also send a letter to each donor family with general information about the recipients, including their gender, age and geographic region where they were transplanted. Further follow-up with our donor families includes bereavement resources, anniversary remembrance cards, invitations to our events, and encouragement to participate in our Strom Bryson Memorial Donor Quilt program. We also encourage families to write letters to the transplant recipients. Many donor families later volunteer for LifeQuest, share their loved ones’ stories and provide education about the importance of organ donation.

In addition to providing ongoing aftercare and bereavement services to all of its families, often individual coordinators and family advocates form personal bonds with family members that blossom into genuine friendships.

Senior Clinical Coordinator Jessica Skiver remembers a donor case from a past Valentine’s Day, in which the organ donor’s long-time boyfriend and Skiver connected and have kept in touch throughout the years. He sends Skiver a Christmas card annually, and she sends him a card every Valentine’s Day.

“He’s very thankful for everything we did to make her legacy very impactful,” Skiver said.

One Christmas, LifeQuest “adopted” one of its donor families. The father passed away in a motorcycle accident, saving five lives through his donation. LifeQuest staff contributed gifts to make the holidays a little more special for his wife and four young children.

Public education coordinator Coral Denton has built numerous friendships with donor families who want to further our cause, and special memories from these relationships stand out. She has gone kayaking on Crystal River with Terry Rooks, the sister of donor Tim Rooks. She and donor father Clifford Gionet share a passion for traveling and send each other photos upon return from each new adventure. The four-year-old little sister of organ donor Peyton Evans made Coral a coral snake at school, which she hangs in her office.

It is a privilege to serve our donor families and honor their loved ones, as their stories continue onward through the ultimate gift, the Gift of Life.

Working the Mission in the Face of a Hurricane

October 2, 2017: 

As Hurricane Irma barreled toward Florida the weekend of September 8, the LifeQuest team activated its disaster plan in order to keep business running as normally as possible.

Our dual focus was the safety of our employees and their families, as well as the individuals who may be referred as potential donors, as we have an obligation to honor their decisions to become life-saving donors.

Staff in the path of the storm who did not need to be in the office were encouraged to work from home, and staff assigned to respond to the hospitals’ referrals were asked to do as much as possible over the phone. As with previous hurricanes, we communicated well with the unit staff in our partner hospitals in “the cone” – from Jacksonville to Tallahassee – where there were potential organ donors.

In spite of staff losing power and water one-by-one, and some evacuating out of flood-prone zones, our administrative-on-call team still triaged all of the referral calls, and the rest of our teams stayed in touch with each other to ensure everyone was accounted for and safe.

As the storm was intensifying, we had an authorized donor in case one of our critical care units. This individual’s family graciously agreed to allow our staff extra time and delay the case until air and ground travel was safe for transplant programs and their recipients. The family, nursing staff and attending physician could not have been more supportive of our process and needs.

It truly is a blessing to have such a dedicated and committed team as the employees at LifeQuest, who never fail to put the mission of saving lives first.