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.