Raising the Flag to Celebrate Donate Life Month

To commemorate April as Donate Life Month, the sixth floor Atrium at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC filled with patient families, hospital staff, donors, and recipients to do one thing: talk about organ donation.

Diane Hupp, chief nursing officer, kicked off the ceremony by thanking everyone in attendance including the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), organ recipients, and placed a special emphasis on organ donors. Everyone was there to celebrate, raise the flag, and say thank you.

George Mazariegos, MD, FACS, director of the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantaion, spoke next and asked donors and recipients to raise their hands. Looking around, a number of individuals sat and stood among the crowd.

After thanking them, Dr. Mazariegos turned to recognize the transplant professionals who “work day and mostly night it seems.” Among the pros, he mentioned the “father of modern transplantation,” Dr. Thomas Starzl, and praised him for his dedication to children and the process of developing modern transplantation.

Dr. Mazariegos emphasized Children’s Hospital walks with patients through their journey as one transplant family. They celebrate with you through the good times and help you through the bad, as a family.

Organ recipients, a donor family and CORE’s chief operating officer then took the podium.

Sarah Vargas, the mother of a living donor recipient, spoke first about her daughter’s journey with maple syrup urine disease (MSUD). At nine months old, her daughter came to Children’s Hospital in search of liver transplant as a cure for her disease.

Vargas closed her segment by telling the audience to never second guess their choice when considering organ donation, and they will regret it if they’re not an organ donor.

Liver recipient Matthew Miller spoke next. After falling extremely ill before receiving his transplant, he is now dedicated to change the face of organ donation.

Sixteen-year-old Eagle Scout, Ford “Riley” Liberto, spoke of his transplant experience. He received his kidney from his mother, and she now wears a silver kidney necklace around her neck. He described the anniversary of his transplant as an extra birthday, and he is forever grateful for his mother.

Craig Smith ignored his symptoms until the last possible moment. He thought minimally of his shortness of breath and leg swelling until he learned of his need for a heart transplant. Smith expressed his amazement by modern medicine and technology.

Beside Smith stood Pumper, the mascot of Second Chance Fundraising. Smith said his speech was more than just social media likes, it was a symbol of a second chance.

Laura Gillum spoke on behalf of her donor family. Her son died at 23 months and one day old after an accidental drowning. His kidneys, liver, and heart were donated. Gillum announced they had not met the recipients of her son’s kidneys or liver, but they met the little boy who received his heart.

“People who receive organs are eternally grateful,” Gillum said.

She revealed she shares a close bond with the mother of the heart recipient, and Gillum acknowledged something good came out of her family’s tragedy.

Gillum is now undergoing the process of becoming a living donor.

Kurt Chutterly of CORE finished the session of speakers before the official flag raising ceremony.

The group then raised the Donate Life flag and the Atrium filled with clapping and cheers as Children’s Hospital celebrated another year of organ donation awareness.

Children’s Hospital scheduled more Organ Donor Awareness Activities throughout the month of April including Blue and Green Day on April 13, International Transplant Nurses’ Day on April 18 and the Patient Parade on April 27.

To learn more, visit www.chp.edu/transplant.