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Flag-raising ceremony honors gift of organ donation

Apr. 25, 2019, 9:17 AM


by Matt Batcheldor

Eighty individuals donated the gift of their organs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last year, more than any other hospital in the nation, and they and their families were saluted on April 16 at the 10th annual Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony.

Seth Karp, MD, was among the speakers at last week’s Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony to raise awareness about the need for organ and tissue donors. (photo by Steve Green)

“Their selflessness resulted in 257 life-saving gifts to people waiting and hoping for another opportunity at life — mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, our friends, families, co-workers and neighbors,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy CEO of VUMC and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “One hundred forty-one individuals made the remarkable gift of tissue donation. Each has his or her own story, and each has made an indelible impact on others. Their selflessness enhanced the lives of burn victims, restored the gift of sight to those who were blind and gave mobility to those suffering from bone and joint injuries.”

The ceremony, held in the atrium of the Critical Care Tower, was part of a national effort to raise awareness about the need for organ and tissue donors. In addition to honoring organ donors and their families, the ceremony salutes hospital staff who care for donors and transplant recipients. The event is a partnership between VUMC and Tennessee Donor Services, the federally designated donor network that facilitates organ and tissue donation in the region.

Pinson noted that 113,591 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, and 3,102 of those waiting are fellow Tennesseans. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waitlist for transplants, just waiting for someone to make the biggest gift.

In 2018, Vanderbilt performed 502 solid organ transplants, making it the sixth largest transplant center in the United States.

The ceremony featured speakers representing two groups of gift givers — end-of-life and living donors.

Graham and Heather Honeycutt spoke about their choice to donate the organs of their 5-year-old daughter, Mikayla, who died in September 2018. Her heart, liver and kidneys saved the lives of four other people, and her esophagus was also donated for research.

“Graham and I had always talked about the desire to donate our organs when we die, but we never had that conversation about our children,” she said. “When it became clear that our sweet Mikayla was no longer with us, it was an obvious decision for us. However, we had no idea what that would entail and what a difficult time that would be. We are extremely grateful that at every point in the process we felt supported by the nurses and physicians here at Vanderbilt and by the Tennessee Donor Services team.”

Speaking for the living donors were Joshua Surovey, a Clarksville man who needed a kidney transplant so badly that he advertised on his car, and Renee Bruens, a stranger at the gym who saw the ad and decided to give him hers. “The crazy thing is I don’t have some profound reason why,” Bruens said. “I just thought it would be really cool to help someone and help save their life.”

They had their surgeries in April 2018, “and now we’re best friends.”

Seth Karp, MD, surgeon-in-chief of VUMC and director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, noted that the wait for a lifesaving transplant in Tennessee is dramatically shorter than other parts of the country, which he attributed to the giving spirit of citizens of the Volunteer State.

He also thanked the doctors, nurses, support staff and Tennessee Donor Services personnel that make transplantation possible.

“You may not realize the great impact you have, but we do,” he said. “Without you, donation would not be possible, and lives could not be saved through transplantation. We are grateful for your hard work and dedication. Together, our teamwork saves lives.”

For information on donor registration, visit


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