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Event celebrates lives touched by organ donation

Apr. 14, 2016, 8:36 AM

Carol Topley talks about her family’s experience with organ donation during last week’s Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony. (photo by Joe Howell)

As Carol Topley sat beside her husband’s bed in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, she knew the end was imminent. She wanted to make sure Joe’s wishes were honored and reminded his nurse that he was an organ donor.

After meeting with a Tennessee Donor Services (TDS) representative, Topley said the care shown to her during the process of donation and the follow-up from the organization helped her with her grief.

“Often people don’t think about the healing side of all of this,” said Topley. “It helps to know that, even in death, your loved one is improving the lives of others. While we were in the ICU I witnessed the gratefulness of patient families whose loved one was saved by organ or tissue donation.

“As a widow and a survivor of a donor, TDS really helped me through the entire process. They provided support and reminded me that my husband helped other people. I took great comfort in knowing his wishes were carried out.”

Topley’s husband, Joe, died in 2014.

In 2015, 140 patients made the gift of tissue donation that enhanced the lives of burn victims, restored sight to the blind and returned mobility to those suffering from bone and joint injuries.

Topley shared her story during the annual Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony as part of national Donate Life month. The event celebrates organ donor families, living donors and hospital staff who care for donors and transplant recipients.

She wanted to share the good that came from her loss.

“It’s not the ending I want to focus on,” Topley said. “I want everyone to recognize the gift your loved one gave to someone else.”

There are more than 123,000 people waiting for a life-saving transplant in the United States with 2,900 Tennesseans on that list. Nearly 1,800 are at Vanderbilt.
Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list nationwide.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., spoke about the national shortage of organ and tissue donors at last week’s Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony. (photo by Joe Howell)

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, took the opportunity to call attention to the national shortage of organ and tissue donors in the United States.

“Only one person out of 18 people waiting and hoping to receive a transplant will get one, due to the shortage of donated organs across the country,” Pinson said. “This makes our collective mission to increase the number of registered organ and tissue donors even more critical.

“When all medical efforts have been exhausted for patients, we believe the patient and their family should have the extraordinary opportunity to leave a legacy and save lives through donation.

“Donation represents the very best that human beings have to offer one another — compassion, generosity and hope,” he said.

According to Teresa Hobt-Bingham, MSN, R.N., manager, Trauma Patient Care Center, not everyone can become a donor.

“In fact, only 2 percent of all people who die in the United States have the opportunity to become donors. Those who do qualify and make the choice to donate are giving a truly unique gift.

“Organ donors, at the end of life, can save up to eight lives, while tissue donors can enhance the lives of more than 50 individuals. We recognize and celebrate the priceless decision to donate,” Hobt-Bingham said.

Hero medals were also awarded to families of donors at the end of the celebration.

Pinson also thanked the Vanderbilt medical teams responsible for caring for both organ donors and recipients.

In other transplant news, the third annual Songs for Life will be held on April 30 at City Winery Nashville from 6  to 11 p.m. The event is an evening of music and celebration featuring Emerson Hart and Friends with special guest Alyssa Bonagura, Dave Barnes and Natalie Hemby.

Songs for Life was established by the Donation Nurse Champion Groups, a subcommittee of the Organ Donation Advisory Committee at Vanderbilt, to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation. Proceeds from the concert will go toward building a permanent memorial at VUMC dedicated to organ, tissue and eye donors.

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