When was the last time you looked at your driver’s license? That little red heart in the corner of the piece of plastic is more than just a simple ‘Yes.’ That decision you made may save a life one day.
April is recognized as Donate Life Month and on Wednesday, Methodist Hospitals celebrated with the Donate Life Flag Raising Ceremony at the Northlake Campus in Gary.
According to Evelyn Morrison, Methodist Hospitals Marketing and Corporate Communications Manager, there are currently 1,500 Indiana residents waiting for a transplant of either an organ, tissue or eye member.
Morrison led the ceremony welcoming guests to listen to Jack Lynch, Director of Community Affairs of Gift of Hope and Tissue Donor Network, Mike Henderson, Donor Services Manager of VisionFirst, and to the tear-jerking story of Vicki Walker and Tanisha Basham. Reverend David Neville led the opening prayer and blessing.
Methodist Hospitals partners with the organizations of Lynch and Henderson to help support and provide eye, organ, and tissue donations.
Over the past four years, the Gift of Hope organization has been making huge strides in receiving donations and thus, saving lives.
“Even though we were doing an exceptional job recovering organs and saving lives, we were not doing as well as we should,” Lynch said.
So, about four years ago, new people took over the organization and “new blood” helped set in motion the pilgrimage focused on saving more lives, he added.
Last year, Vision First oversaw the transplant of 2,400 corneas, with 900 of those in Northwest Indiana, Henderson said. At Gary Methodist, 100 people received the gift of sight on behalf of the generosity of the donors, the families, and the hospital staff. Henderson is also celebrating 21 years as a kidney transplant recipient.
Tanisha Basham is also celebrating her successful transplant, which was thanks to Vicki Walker and her daughter, Nikki Smith.
Many years ago, Walker was asked by her daughter why was she a donor? Her answer, “When I make my transition, I don’t need them, so why don’t I donate them to help someone who does?” triggered that same feeling in her daughter. When Smith was 16 and getting her driver’s license for the first time, she too become a donor.
Years down the road, her wishes came to an unfortunate reality. Around the time of Smith’s death, Walker was asked if Nikki’s organs could be used for donations, and Walker said ‘Yes’ and added that she knew who they could go to.
Basham was the sister of Walker’s close friend, and was in need of a new heart after living with congestive heart failure for the last few years. Her heart was barely using 25 percent of its power, and months before she was able to get the transplant it was down to nine percent.
Basham was hesitant with the gift, she said, felling like a vulture taking the organ from the girl she has known since she was little.
“At the hospital, they told me the only way you are leaving here is if you get a new heart or in a body bag,” Basham said, tears starting to pile in her eyes.
With Walker’s forceful encouragement, Basham received the heart, which was a 100 percent match to what she needed.
“I heard this sound: Boom... Boom, and thought, ‘What is that?’” Basham recalled while waking up after surgery. “The nurse looked at me and said, ‘That’s your heart beat.’”
Walker says it simply: “You can’t take your house with you, you can’t take your organs with you. So, why not donate?”
“It was the best gift I could have given,” Walker said. Now, when she needs to hear her baby Nikki’s heart, Walker calls Basham, asking about her day and how her three kids are doing.
The ceremony concluded with a moment of silence while the American Flag and the Donate Life Flag was raised up the flag pole outside the hospital. Inside, Walker and Basham hugged each other and others, thanking and being thanked for being an example of what this month truly means.