MONDAY JULY 18: DONOR RECOGNITION
SEE ALSO: Gift of Life Walk and The "Gift of Life Donors" Quilt
STORY: David Stringer
PHOTOGRAPHY: Cheri Smith, Scott Bennett
Donor Recognition Day
How can we begin to recognize all that the donor families have done?
I have been to the Transplant Games three times, twice in the United
States and now in London for my first World Games, and each time I have
been overwhelmed by the depth of feelings expressed in public or managed,
somehow, in private.
This year in London I was moved by the living river of green in the morning's 3K walk. Each loss is personal and individual, but there is a power and a resurgence in moving together with those who are mouring and celebrating with you.
Some of the individuals who made up that river of green:
Lorainne, Dana and Mary Ann Churko. Lorainne's husband Ambrose, himself a 1996 kidney recipient from Saskatchewan, had donated his corneas when he died in January of 2003. The Churko family was walking to show support and recognition to other donor families.
The Gartland family from upstate New York. Courtney's Aunt Rebecca donated her heart seven years ago. She said, "I am here to honor the wonderful people who gave a gift of life."
Fred and Patty Taylor, from Sudbury, Ontario. Fred was a living donor of a kidney to Patty's brother's wife. "I'm here to raise awareness," he said. "It's important to tell others."
Pierre Charretier and his sister, Marie Jo Ardevol, both kidney recipients from Lyon, France. "We are here to show we have refound life, to show we can do anything."
Later in the day, the Donor Recognition Ceremony had a power of its own. Held outdoors in the area called "the Concrete Beach" (and adjacent to the more appropriately named Renaissance Square), the sun was bright, the air warm but with momentarily lifted humidity, and a brisk breeze jostling the balloons emblazoned with green ribbons that were tied to the chairs.
I confess that I missed portions of the speeches. Part of the time I was speaking with Andrew Clayton, whom I'd met at the U.S. Games in Minneapolis, and he introduced me to Linda Rumble, Chair of the Donor Family Advisory Council providing help and support for donor families. Her nephew, "Stu-buddy," died at 25 months, and thanks to the generosity of the family and the alertness of one of the nurses, he was able to donate his heart, his liver, and two kidneys. We were joined by Dorothy Morrison, Stu-buddy's mother. Her husband, though legally blind, was still able to donate his corneas to save the sight of two people.
And part of the time I was watching 18 month old Liam Vlaad play, a living embodiment of the energy of life. Liam's Uncle Ryan was a donor: liver, heart, kidneys, bone, eyes and skin. Through a series of accidents and coincidences, the Vlaad family has met the recipient of Ryan's heart and liver, a man named Bill Anger.
These stories, and the many stories like them, were reinforced by words and phrases from the speeches:
One of the speakers, 1995 kidney recipient Connie Ellis, said of the choices made by donor families, "Life and death, joy and sorrow, are forever joined."
Theresa Sokyrka's songs were another beautiful expression of the complex emotions of the day, as were her words of gratitude for her father's heart transplant that gave her many more years with him.
Then came the balloon release, a gesture of joy that reminded me of prayer. Some of the balloons stubbornly refused to rise, instead bouncing along the Concrete Beach being chased by boys or somehow blowing back down to the ground. One of the volunteers standing near me commented that those stubborn independent balloons must be the Canadians.