For a seventh year, families gathered with Community Healthcare System staff members, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network representatives and VisionFirst officials to honor the area’s organ, eye and tissue donors.
The annual Donate Life Rose Dedication Ceremony was held Nov. 1 at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts to formally send-off roses that will make up the Donate Life float in the 2018 Rose Parade. Each of the 50 roses sponsored by Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart now carry tags with messages on their vials of love from the donor families.
“Everyone here understands what the families are going through after losing a loved one,” said Jana Lacera, rose ceremony coordinator and director of Bioethics, Community Healthcare System. “These dedicated roses and the tributes they carry add special meaning not only for the families of our organ and tissue donors, but serve to inspire others to become organ, eye and tissue donors as well. Supporting the Donate Life float is just one of the ways the hospitals of Community Healthcare System honor and remembers donors and their generous contributions.”
Year round, the hospitals of Community Healthcare System partner with Gift of Hope and VisionFirst eye bank to raise awareness regarding eye, organ and tissue donations. The Donate Life rose ceremony is another opportunity for the hospitals of Community Healthcare System – Community Hospital, Munster, St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center, Hobart - to connect with donor families again and thank them for their kindness and courage. Transplant recipients also in attendance relate to the donor families the impact the donor’s gift has had on their lives.
Bill Perry, a cornea transplant recipient from Schererville told those in attendance that there hasn’t been a day that has gone by since his transplants that he hasn’t thought about the gift his donors left him - the ability to see again. At the age of 28, Perry was diagnosed with advanced keratoconus, a progressive eye disease where the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. This cone shape deflects light and causes vision distortion.
At the time of his diagnosis, Perry said was about to get married and felt he had a bright future ahead of him. However, he was told the keratoconus could spread to the other eye and he could go blind. He was devastated.
“It was a sad situation and I was depressed,” he recalled. “But about one month later, because of a donor’s generosity, I had a cornea transplant.”
“Today, I am a nurse in the catheterization lab at Community Hospital in Munster,” Perry said. “I couldn’t do the things I do today if it hadn’t been for this great gift of vision. Twenty-one years after my transplant, I am able to take this opportunity to say thank you in public to the generous donor who provided me with the life changing gift of sight. It is so important to make your wishes known. Just one person can save so many lives and make a difference.”
Angelique Marseille of Lansing, Ill was in college when her twin sister noticed how yellow her eyes were on a trip home. She didn’t go to the doctor when she had spontaneous bruising on her legs either. Finally, when she developed acne, cysts and boils on her face, she went running to the emergency department. Blood tests revealed a grave prognosis. Doctors told Marseille she was very sick with idiopathic biliary ductopenia which led to advanced cirrhosis of the liver. Her liver was functioning at only 5 to 10 percent. Without a liver transplant, within 10 days she would die.
Near death, her body prepared to shut down. Marseille had lost most of her vision and it was hard to hear. A nurse named Mary came to her bedside and they prayed The Lords’ Prayer together.
“Mary told me ‘if it is your time…it is your time’,” Marseille said. “Later that evening a knock at the hospital room door told me an organ was available. All I could think about was that someone lost their brother, son, mother or daughter.”
“That was 24 years ago,” she explained. “I was out of the ICU on Valentine’s Day. Because of my donor’s generosity, I finished college, got married, had 2 sons, got to grow old with my twin sister, had two little sisters that I would not have gotten a chance to know and who are both joys of my life. I will never take the donor’s gift for granted; it saved my life.”
With a theme called “The Gift of Time,” the 2018 Donate Life Rose Parade float will carry donor families, living donors and transplant recipients as part of the Rose Bowl events Monday, January 1 in Pasadena, Calif. The 2018 float depicts a vibrantly colored, tropical backdrop that dates back to the ancient civilizations of Mexico. It celebrates the gift of life as 16 costumed riders sit alongside the jungle, against stone carvings, drawing on the strength they have gained from their donors to continue and thrive on life’s journey.
The monumental Aztec calendar draws the eye to the center of the float, where 44 donors are honored with floragraphs. This ancient calendar is a reminder of the enduring, life-saving power of the generosity of donors and families. Alongside the float, eight living donors and recipients will carry baskets of fruit and flowers in celebration of the renewed life they have shared with one another and the world. The beauty, richness, and potential of life is represented by the vivid flock of macaws perched over the lush floral canopies, ready to take flight.
One person can save up to eight lives through the donation of lifesaving organs – heart, kidney, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine – and help more than 50 people or more who need corneas to see, skin to heal from burns and bones and connective tissue for common knee, back and dental surgeries. Some 6,000 lives per year also are saved by living kidney and liver donors.
Organ and tissue donations save and heal hundreds of thousands of adults and children each year in the U.S. alone. Indiana residents can register their intent to be organ and tissue donors while obtaining or renewing their drivers’ license. Registration also is accepted at donatelifeindiana.org.