November 13, 2020

VUMC employee attends honor walk for her brother, becomes passionate organ donation advocate

Her brother Taylor’s death was heartbreaking, but Anna Lorenz is determined to inspire others with his example

Environmental portrait of Anna Lorenz, Patient Relations Specialist. The story is about the unexpected death of Anna's brother and how he saved lives as an organ donor.

Anna Lorenz. Photo by Susan Urmy

Anna Lorenz got the call at work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center this past January. The call that nobody wants. Her father phoned to say that her younger brother, Taylor, who was only 26, was in the hospital and not expected to recover.

From that moment, Anna, a Patient Relations specialist at VUMC, would go through a transformational experience. She flew to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, to say goodbye to her younger brother. Unknown to her family until that time, Taylor, who had diabetes, registered as an organ donor and would save the lives of four people through his organs and likely dozens more through tissue donation.

“I woke up and went to his room to tell him I needed to get on the road.” She kissed his forehead and said, “Love you.”

“I love you, too,” he said.

“I’ll see ya,” Anna said.

“That was basically my last goodbye to him.”

Anna was on hand for the final goodbye at Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph. Taylor’s family, many friends and dozens of medical personnel lined the hallways at 4 a.m. on Jan. 26 to honor Taylor as his hospital bed was moved to the operating room to retrieve his final gifts of life.

The ceremony, called an Honor Walk, is a voluntary way for medical personnel, family, and friends to recognize donor families for their loved one’s brave final act. Mosaic Life Care’s video of the Honor Walk has more than 1.9 million views on YouTube and 1.3 million on Facebook.

“Taylor is not with us anymore and I hate it, but I just pray for him every day and know that he’s OK now and diabetes free,” Anna said. “But he’s still living through four other people and others through his tissue. The fact that he saved other people from dying, that’s what makes me try to stay as positive as I can about the whole situation.”

Anna is sharing her brother’s experience in the hope that more people will sign up to become organ and tissue donors. It’s also an opportunity to remember the good man who selflessly decided to give of himself, never knowing that he would do so at such a young age.

Diagnosed in Eighth Grade

Anna didn’t know much about diabetes until her brother was diagnosed in eighth grade.

“As we went through the journey with him, we just learned how dangerous diabetes can be, especially at the age he was diagnosed,” she said.

On the last “magical” day at the Chiefs game: Anna Lorenz, center, with her brothers Taylor, left, and Brandon, right. Photo courtesy Anna Lorenz

Taylor was a typical kid — loved playing football and socializing with friends. One thing you have to understand about the Lorenz family: They are die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fans, Anna said, the  kind who have season tickets on the 50-yard-line.

So, when the Tennessee Titans were set to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game on Jan. 19, there was no way Anna was going to miss it, even though Kansas City just had an ice storm. She drove home to Missouri to watch the Chiefs beat the Titans 35-24, alongside Taylor and her older brother, Brandon.

“It was the best experience,” she said.

It was a magical day, and the last full day she would share with Taylor. Anna had to return to Nashville that next day.

“I woke up and went to his room to tell him I needed to get on the road,” she said, then kissed his forehead. “Love you.”

“I love you, too,” he said.

“I’ll see ya,” Anna said.

“That was basically my last goodbye to him.”

The Phone Call

The next day, Anna returned to work at VUMC wearing a Chiefs sweatshirt, still glowing from the win. Then her dad called with the news. He had called 911 that morning when he couldn’t get Taylor’s blood sugar reading and saw that he was having other issues with his diabetes.

An ambulance arrived, and when emergency crews took Taylor outside, he went into cardiac arrest. They administered CPR and rushed him to the hospital, but he arrested again as soon as he got there, so they repeated CPR.  After spending a long day in the ER, Taylor was then transferred into the ICU at Mosaic Life Care.

Anna flew home and stayed overnight with her family in the hospital. That next morning Taylor had one last scan that determined he had no brain activity. The family received the news that Taylor was officially gone.

The close-knit Lorenz family: Lora Lorenz (Brandon, Anna and Taylor’s mom), Katie Lorenz (Brandon’s wife), Stephen Lorenz (Brandon, Anna and Taylor’s father), siblings Brandon, Anna and Taylor Lorenz. Photo courtesy Anna Lorenz

“We walked into the ICU waiting room just to take it all in that we lost Taylor,” she said. “We literally sat down in silence and my dad looked at all of us and said, ‘you know what, I’m going to voice my opinion and we’re going to make a decision as a family and we’re all going to agree and be on the same page, but I want Taylor to be an organ donor.’ And we all looked at each other, like, absolutely. This is what needs to happen and what Taylor would want.”

Later that day the Lorenz family discovered that Taylor had already signed up to be a donor. “That was kind of an amazing thing to hear,” Anna said.

Taylor remained in hospital for several days, until his condition improved to the point where his organs would be optimal for transplant. The family also agreed to participate in an Honor Walk.

“We’ve had so many friends and family say that they didn’t ever care about becoming a donor or ever realize what it was, but now they’ve also signed up and it’s all because of Taylor.”

They all gathered – in a time before COVID-19 and in full Kansas City Chiefs gear – to say goodbye.

Anna remained home for Taylor’s funeral and to watch the Super Bowl on TV. There, the Chiefs rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20. Her brother was watching from above, she said.

Taylor’s example led Anna to become an organ donor, and many others have followed. “We’ve had so many friends and family say that they didn’t ever care about becoming a donor or ever realize what it was, but now they’ve also signed up and it’s all because of Taylor,” she said.

Truly, the experience has changed her.

“It’s the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life, but if it’s a way to impact or inspire other people to look into donating, I want to do everything I can. And that’s what Taylor would want, too.”

To learn more about becoming an organ and tissue donor, visit donatelifetn.org. Tennessee drivers can also choose to become an organ donor on their driver’s license applications. Donors are encouraged to share their decisions with their families.

Vanderbilt Transplant Center is a leading provider of organ transplantation in the Southeast and Tennessee’s only full-service transplant center. Learn more at https://www.vanderbilthealth.com/transplant/.