Scores of transplant patients recently gathered at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC) to celebrate their health and thank the organ donors who made it possible for them to be there.
In honor of National Donate Life Month, Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-TMC (HVI) hosted its first ever “Celebrating the Gift” event for more than 140 heart transplant patients and their families in a show of appreciation for those who give the gift of life.
Every April, organ procurement organizations across the United States hold celebrations to honor the legacies of organ, eye and tissue donors whose unselfish gifts saved the lives of others. The ceremony at HVI marked the start of an annual tradition by the Institute to emphasize the life-giving nature of organ donation.
In Texas, there are 13,000 people awaiting organ transplants, according to LifeGift, and 819 lives were saved last year across the organization’s regions.
“This is really about the donors. This is really about the people who through their love of mankind and their desire to help others, let their families know or let someone know that if they ever die an untimely death, they would want their spirit of selflessness to move on,” said Elizabeth Mosele, social work manager at HVI.
In an emotional ceremony in the waiting room of the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at HVI, transplant recipients wiped tears from their face as they shared their deeply personal stories about long illnesses, organ failures and the gifts from strangers that gave them a fresh chance at life.
James DeGarmo, who recently received a lung transplant as part of the Center for Advanced Heart Failure’s newly launched Lung Transplant Program, said he was beyond grateful for the new organ and that he feels an obligation to live his life to the fullest in honor of his donor.
“It’s been my goal to give the donor’s family the best treatment of the gift they gave me,” he said. “I’m so grateful for them.”
Not all transplant recipients get the opportunity to meet the relatives of their organ donors, but for those who are able to connect, the bonds they create are extremely special and can last a lifetime.
Jimmie Brooks Bolton, 75, attended the ceremony with his donor’s mother, Karen Morales. The two first connected not long after Bolton received her son’s heart, and they have grown close since, meeting each other’s families and forging an instant kinship.
“All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you,” Bolton said at the ceremony. “It’s made my life possible. It’s made it possible for me to hold my grandchildren, hold my great-grandchildren, and continue with my life. All I can say is thank you.”
At the close of the ceremony, transplant recipients recited a pledge thanking organ donors and were given long-stemmed red roses to hand to their donor families or, if they hadn’t connected with their donor families, to another person for whom they were grateful.
Morales walked away with a bouquet of flowers from recipients in the room expressing their appreciation for her son’s gift. “I’m just so thankful that I was able to fulfill my son’s wishes,” she said.
Learn more information about Memorial Hermann’s transplant program, or register to become a donor through Donate Life Texas.
View more photos of the ceremony here.