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New sculpture honors organ donors, families

Feb. 21, 2019, 9:28 AM

Attendees gather at last week’s dedication of “The Gift of Life” sculpture, which memorializes organ donors and their families and is on display in the Critical Care Tower.
Attendees gather at last week’s dedication of “The Gift of Life” sculpture, which memorializes organ donors and their families and is on display in the Critical Care Tower. (photo by Anne Rayner)

by Matt Batcheldor

Vanderbilt University Medical Center employees and guests gathered in the sixth floor atrium of the Critical Care Tower on Feb. 14 to dedicate “The Gift of Life,” a metal sculpture memorializing the final, selfless act of VUMC’s organ donors and their families.

Vanderbilt is ranked as the No. 1 hospital for organ donations in the United States according to Tennessee Donor Services, the federally designated donor network that facilitates organ and tissue donation in the region.

The sculpture, by Tennessee-based artist Terry Williams, pictures two birds high atop a birdhouse that towers over the heads of visitors to the atrium. The VUMC Donation Nurse Champion Committee raised more than $28,000 over six years and held multiple fundraisers to make it a reality, said committee member Teresa Hobt-Bingham, MSN, RN.

“It is really a dream come true,” Hobt-Bingham said.

The sculpture was the brainchild of Heather Hart, MSN, RN, AG-ACNP, who co-founded the Donation Nurse Champion Committee with Hobt-Bingham in 2013. The committee’s goal was to build a permanent memorial to raise awareness for organ donation and honor patients and families for their gifts of life through organ donation.

“I think the unspoken hero in every transplant case is the donor,” Hart said. “We really wanted to visualize that message and how powerful that is.”

Hundreds of volunteer hours made the sculpture possible. Most of the money was raised through four annual benefit concerts called Songs for Life. Hart’s husband, Emerson Hart, is the lead singer for the multiplatinum rock group Tonic. He and his musician friends played for free and the concerts’ proceeds went toward the memorial.

The first benefit concert in 2014 was held in Langford Auditorium, then moved to City Winery for the next three years.

Headliners included Kevin Griffin, singer from multiplatinum band Better than Ezra, and Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter David Hodges.

By 2017, the group had raised enough money to begin the process of conceptualizing and creating the sculpture. Early sketches focused on songbirds, hearkening back to the Songs for Life concerts that made the work possible.

“It’s been quite an incredible journey and process and we’re all a bit dizzied by it,” Heather Hart said.

At the ceremony, Andie Perona, a surgical technologist who is part of the VUMC transplant team, described what donation means to her.

She had her kidney, pancreas and liver transplant at Vanderbilt in 2014.

“I feel privileged to say that I’m not only a part of this team but I’m a product of this team,” she said. “There is not a single day that goes by that I do not think about my donor and their family,” Perona said.

“I know that on one of the darkest and saddest days of their life they made the decision to donate a loved one’s organs, which was one of the best days of my life because I was getting a second chance at life.”

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