MUNSTER – For a sixth year, families gathered with Community Healthcare System staff members, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network representatives and Indiana Lions Eye Bank officials to honor the area’s organ, eye and tissue donors.
The annual Donate Life Rose Dedication Ceremony was held Nov. 2 at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts to formally send-off roses that will make up the Donate Life float in the 2017 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 you 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 the Indiana Lions 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.
Albert Castro, double cornea transplant recipient from Merrillville 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 26, Albert was diagnosed with 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.
“It was a humbling experience, but a blessing too,” he said. “I set goals during the time I was healing. I left my job and traveled, got my MBA and got married. I now work as a radiation therapist at Community Hospital in Munster. My eyes are essential to perform my job. Every time I get an eye glass prescription filled, I think about those corneas that were donated to me.”
“You don’t really know how much you are missing until it comes back…the green of the grass and the blue of the sky,” Castro said. “I am able to see colors, I am able to read signs, I am able to read billboards! Through my faith and strong will, I am able to see again.”
Pastor Lenny Wiseheart of Valparaiso and his wife Joy said they give thanks to the Lord every day for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon their family. He had open heart surgery in 2001. A metal valve was placed in his heart as part of the procedure but, he developed life-threatening infections of MRSA and sepsis. He spent 70 days in the hospital and received a cadaver valve in his heart as a replacement.
“My doctor told me that when people are as sick as I was, they don’t usually get well again,” he said. “I can’t be thankful enough for my donor and the way the Lord touched me.”
With a theme called “Teammates in Life,” the 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade float will carry donor families, living donors and transplant recipients as part of the Rose Bowl events Monday, January 2 in Pasadena, Calif. The 2017 float depicts a spectacular Polynesian catamaran, which will be propelled by a team of 24 organ, eye, and tissue transplant recipients rowing in unison with strength gained from their donors. The sails of the vessel will feature 60 floral portraits of donors interwoven with Polynesian designs and patterns. Just as the donors’ gifts empower the lives of others, the sails help power the catamaran on its journey. Twelve living donors will walk alongside the float carrying flowers in celebration of the life they have given to others and the quality of life they continue to enjoy themselves. The ocean waves will showcase 1,000 white Akito roses, individually dedicated in memory of specific donors.
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.