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.”
“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.