Last March, Jen Schwinn got the phone call no mother ever wants to get. Her four-month-old daughter, Jaycee, was in cardiac arrest and unresponsive.
And so, instead of spending a cold Sunday afternoon in February at home with her family, Jen and her husband brought Jaycee’s siblings Jacob, 8, and Jolee, 3, from their York home to a ceremony on the campus of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center where they spent time with the families of other organ and tissue donors, reminding themselves how death can lead to new life.
They listened as liver recipient Bill Griffis of Berks County told how his wife was watching him die from liver disease when Dr. Zakiyah Kadry, chief of the Division of Abdominal Transplant at Penn State Health saved his life by transplanting a donated liver.
“Your loved ones are heroes – every single one of them,” he told the more than 100 family members and friends gathered at the University Conference Center. “It was so hard for me knowing that a young man died so I could live. But everything I do now is for my donor.”
On Jan. 1, Penn State Health sponsored a rose on the Donate Life America float in the 130th Tournament of Roses Parade for each organ and tissue donor who gave the gift of life at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Health St. Joseph from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.
During the annual Rose Parade Donor Remembrance Ceremony on Feb. 24, Lara Moretti, manager of family support services for the Gift of Life Donor Program, read the names of each donor. The program serves as the organ procurement organization for eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Penn State Health and Gift of Life leaders, together with Griffis, presented families with a personalized certificate, a comfort stone, a Donate Life pin and a replica of the rose placed on the Donate Life America float symbolizing their loved one’s gift.
“I think it’s a wonderful way to put a face on what organ donation can do, and I would thank whoever put this on,” said Dan Martin of Newville. He made the decision to donate his wife, Rhoda’s, organs after she died in June.
“My mom always said, ‘If I can’t use it, someone else can,’” Martin’s daughter Charity Brown, of Lancaster, said.
Greg Hartman of Mechanicsburg thought his late wife, Mary Hill Hartman, would have liked the ceremony, which more than two dozen of her friends and family members attended to recognize her gift.
“Hearing how much the gift changed his (Griffis’s) life makes me appreciate what she did more and feel glad that she did it,” he said. “It meant a lot to me.”
Richard Hasz, vice president of clinical services for Gift of Life, thanked each family for all they did to look past their grief and say yes to donation at one of the most difficult times in their lives.
He shared how corneas gave sight, bone reconstructed amputated limbs and skin covered burn victims. “These things happened because of families like you,” he said.
“You had an opportunity to create a legacy for your loved ones, and you made these things possible.”
Pennsylvania residents can register to be an organ donor on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation website.
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