Candle-Lighting Ceremony 2017 | News | Loyola Medicine
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Organ Transplant Patients Honor Donors at 26th Candle-lighting Ceremony

MAYWOOD, IL – Organ transplant patients, donors and donor families gathered Sunday, April 23 at Loyola University Medical Center for the 26th Candle-lighting Ceremony in honor of National Donate Life Month.

Among the featured speakers was Melissa Gilbert, a police officer with a debilitating liver disease who was on the waiting list for 10 months before her life-saving liver transplant. She told those gathered in the Loyola Outpatient Center atrium that she will get married this summer on the first anniversary of her transplant.

“Before my transplant, I was scared to look ahead,” Ms. Gilbert said. “I wasn’t sure what the future would hold or if I would even have one. Now that fear is gone and life is good.”

Ms. Gilbert, of Thornton, and her fiancé, a firefighter, will give wedding guests party favors from Donate Life, a national organization that promotes organ donation.

Loyola’s candle-lighting ceremony is held each April during National Donate Life Month. The ceremony raises awareness for organ donation, honors organ donors and supports transplant patients. Patients who have received organ donations, or are waiting for transplants, light candles from the “Candle of Life” in memory of and in thanksgiving for those who have given life to others through organ donation.

Rochella Ostrowski, MD, a Loyola Medicine rheumatologist, represented organ donor families at the ceremony. Dr. Ostrowski spoke on behalf of her mother, Romula Abaygar, who became an organ donor after she died last year.

“My mother was very generous,” Dr. Ostrowski  said. “She was still working overtime and giving of herself even after she passed away. Those were the hardest days of my life, but in a heartbeat we would do it again. I know that’s what my mom would have wanted.”

Erica Dixon, RN, Loyola’s post-transplant coordinator for lung transplantation, emceed the event and thanked all organ donors for giving others a second chance at life.

“Our transplant recipients make good on their promise to live and give,” she said. “They return to their families, go back to work, volunteer in their communities, participate in transplant support groups. They return to living and giving to the world at large.”

John Bak, a 42-year-old father of two who received a rare heart-kidney transplant from the same donor, spoke of how transplant recipients struggle with getting such an enormous gift.

“There’s no way to pay something like this back,” he said. “There is no way to pay it forward other than to live your life in a way that is meaningful to others.”

Other speakers included Alice Domino, 63, who received a kidney transplant after spending four long years on the waiting list, and Jorgé Rivera, 59, who can breathe freely again after receiving a life-saving lung transplant.

Loyola is one of only three centers in Illinois that perform transplants on all four of the major solid organs: heart, lung, kidney and liver. Loyola also is among the few centers that perform combination transplants, including heart-lung, heart-kidney, heart-liver, liver-kidney, lung-liver and lung-kidney. Loyola has received approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing to begin a pancreas transplant program in 2017.

Loyola performed 246 organ transplants in 2016, the highest number it has recorded during the program’s 45-year history. Last year, Loyola led all other Illinois centers in heart transplants, and performed more lung transplants than all other centers in Illinois combined.  

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), located on a 61-acre campus in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH), on a 36-acre campus in Melrose Park, and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. At the heart of LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that houses the Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, a burn center, a children's hospital, Loyola Outpatient Center, and Loyola Oral Health Center. The campus also is home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. The GMH campus includes a 254-licensed-bed community hospital, a Professional Office Building with 150 private practice clinics, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. It serves people and communities in 22 states from coast to coast with 93 hospitals, and 120 continuing care locations — including home care, hospice, PACE and senior living facilities — that provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually.