The gift of life is the most precious gift someone can give. As a way to honor our patients who give that special gift, both in the past and in the future, a new Organ Donor Memorial has been unveiled and blessed in the hospital's level one walkway overlooking the Healing Garden.
"Organ donation has been happening at St. Mary's for many years, and we know there are many living recipients in our area because of the work we have done to preserve organ viability and support families in choosing the gift of life," said Erin Loftus, RN, SSICU. "Today, St. Mary's would like to recognize donors and their families by revealing a wall and a flag that we have installed to further honor and support the gift of life that our patients and families are offering."
The Organ Donor Memorial and "Donate Life" flag raising ceremony were the brainchild of the hospital's Forward Focus Group, which is made up of ICU nurses and manager, OR staff and a nursing supervisor. Their goal is to give our donor families a meaningful and compassionate way to honor their loved one's gift, as well as raise awareness about the need for organ donors.
"As you walk by you can see the large orange dots which symbolize organ donation, and the design of the tree with the different colors is the giving of one life onto another," said Becky Meinholz, RN, OR Team Leader, as she explained the significance of the memorial's design. "And the circle is the circle of life. So there is a lot of meaning behind this – it's a very special wall."
Father Pat Norris blessed the memorial as a reminder of the sacredness of the precious gift of life, and asked God to bless all of those involved in this healing endeavor – donors and their loved ones, organ donor recipients, and the clinicians and staff who make this special gift possible.
It's the physicians and staff both here at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital - Madison and at UW Hospital who made a lasting impression on Gary Einerson. Gary – whose daughter-in-law, Renee Einerson, is a Cardiodiagnostic Technician at St. Mary's – is an organ donor recipient, as well as a donor family member.
About four years ago, Gary was diagnosed with liver failure. After spending a week at St. Mary's, he was transferred to UW Hospital where he underwent a liver transplant. He credits the care he received at both hospitals as the reason he is doing so well today.
"I think nurses are on a separate level of their own – they're destined for sainthood," he said. "I know that every day they come to work with their own problems … but in spite of all that, they treated me like I was the only patient in the hospital. I can't say enough about the care I received from them. Yes, the physicians, the doctors were phenomenal. They diagnosed me, they saved my life. But without the care that I received from the nursing staff, I don't think I would be here."
It was after losing his wife of almost 55 years, Sandy, to a stroke a year ago, when Gary became a passionate advocate for organ donation. Sandy spent three days at St. Mary's before she passed away. And three years after her husband received a life-saving gift, she was able to give the gift of life herself – donating her liver and her kidneys.
"When she had the stroke, I prayed that she would pass away. I did not want her to suffer, or her family, because I knew, I knew deeply how she would feel if she had to burden us," he said. "The Lord answered my prayer, and consequently she was able to save two lives – from what I understand, one here at University Hospital and one somewhere in Indiana. It gives me great comfort and peace, as it does to our family, my children, for what she has given to society, and given those families."
Today, Gary and his oldest daughter speak to groups throughout Wisconsin, sharing their story and promoting organ donation. And to Gary, our Organ Donation Memorial holds a very special meaning.
"I would like to thank everyone for bringing me here today to help honor this beautiful wall, and know that part of my wife is here."
"Donate Life" Flag Raising Ceremony
Previously when we've had a patient who would be giving the gift of life, the patient's family was left in limbo after their loved one was taken into the OR. Going forward, when the patient is taken to the OR, a member of Pastoral Care will escort the family to the Healing Garden – or, in case of inclement weather, to the walkway near the Organ Donor Memorial – where they will hold a small ceremony or prayer service, depending on the family's wishes. During the ceremony, a "Donate Life" flag will be raised. That flag will fly for 48 hours to honor their loved one and let our staff, patients and visitors know that someone has given the gift of life. The family will also be given a flag to keep. The hope is that the flag will not only raise awareness about organ donation, but that it will also spark conversation about what many see as a difficult topic.