April 26, 2012

Event highlights power, promise of organ donation

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Michelle Gilliam hugs her daughter, Danielle Wilson, after speaking at last week’s Donate Life Flag Raising ceremony. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Event highlights power, promise of organ donation

Medical teams at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt spent hours working to revive Michelle Gilliam’s 13-year-old daughter, April, following an accident in June 2009, but to no avail.

Gilliam shares this information now in an effort to dispel the myths surrounding organ donation and to honor her daughter’s memory.

“So many people think that if they have an accident or if they are in the hospital and it is known that they are donors, the doctors won’t make every attempt to save their lives because they will want their organs.

“That is not true at all,” said Gilliam. “I know from personal experience that the physicians and nurses exhaust all efforts in saving a life. Period.

“I know how much they worked to save April. And I think by retelling my story people will hear it from a mother. They did everything they could. There was just too much damage (to save her).”

Gilliam shared her daughter’s story at the third annual Donate Life Flag Raising ceremony held at Vanderbilt on Thursday, April 19. The program is part of a national effort to raise awareness about the need for organ, tissue and eye donations as well as a time to honor all organ donors, their families and the medical personnel who care for them. April is National Donate Life Month.

She told the guests about the day she was approached about donating her daughter’s organs. With no hesitation, Gilliam said she met with representatives from Tennessee Donor Services. It has been three years since April died.

“April had a quiet warmth, a generous spirit and a great personality. She gave us great joy,” Gilliam told a crowd gathered on the plaza of the Medical Center. “I loved seeing her smile and hearing her laugh. Her hugs brightened and sustained my soul.

“I knew she would agree with my decision to donate.”

April’s organs helped save the lives of five people. Gilliam recently received a letter from the woman who received April’s lungs.

“Out of a tragedy, something positive came from it,” she said. “It just warms my heart to hear that those who received April’s organs are doing well.”

Nationally, more than 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) registry. Nearly 2,300 are in Tennessee, and of those patients, 1,082 are registered with the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.

Approximately 18 people a day die awaiting a life-saving transplant in the United States.

“Donating organs represents the best of what one human being has to offer to another — compassion, generosity, hope and it is truly heroic,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, who served as director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center for 18 years. “It is possible to create life, continue life and give life through organ donation.”

In 2011 at Vanderbilt, 71 patients donated at the end of life, just as April did. Those gifts resulted in 268 transplanted organs.

The online donor registry can be found at www.donatelifetn.org.