Event raises awareness on organ donation as participants share personal experiences

Participants in program display a Donate Life flag at the conclusion of the event..

Participants in program display a Donate Life flag at the conclusion of the event..

Former firefighter and fire marshal Jimmy Ward knows that had it not been for the generosity of an organ donor, he wouldn’t be here today and wouldn’t have lived to see two grandchildren born or meet the one that is on the way.

Ward, who received both a heart and kidney transplant, shared his experiences and encouraged others to register to become an organ donor during Troy University’s School of Nursing’s National Donate Month program held last week at the Troy Campus.

Nursing students, faculty and staff teamed with the new organization Student Organ Donation Advocates and Legacy of Hope to help raise awareness about the importance of organ donation.

Dr. LaGary Carter, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, speaks during the Donate Life Month event.

“April is designated as Donate Life Month that shines the spotlight on the importance of organ, tissue and eye donation,” said Dr. LaGary Carter, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “One of the great organizations trying to address this need is Legacy of Hope, Alabama’s federally designated, nonprofit organ procurement organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation for transplant and research. This organization has helped to save over 700 lives in the state through the promotion and advocacy of the importance of organ, eye, tissue and living donations. This is illustrated by 3 million donor registrations in just this state.”

Wards’ transplant journey began in 2000 when he was diagnosed with heart disease.

“At that point, the doctor said I would most likely have to have a heart transplant someday, which was pretty devastating news,” Ward said. “I was a firefighter for over 20 years before I was diagnosed. The expectancy my whole life was to be able to save someone’s life.”

Ward’s heart function declined drastically in 2015, and during a doctor’s visit in 2016, he was told that he needed a heart transplant. After living with a heart pump device for nearly 15 months, Ward received the heart transplant he desperately needed.

“We went for a doctor’s visit, and I didn’t go home. They put me in the hospital immediately,” he said. “I had to stay in the hospital for about two months after the transplant, not from issues with the heart itself, but for other issues related to the surgery.”

About a year and a half later, Ward was informed that his kidney function had declined, and he was added to the transplant list. It was then that his wife, Lana, began her own transplant experience – as a donor.

Jimmy Ward shares his experiences as a heart and kidney tranplant recipient.

“We were enrolled in the organ donor chain through the Legacy of Hope,” Ward said. “My wife got screened to become a living donor and got a call that my wife was matched as a donor for a father who needed a transplant. Turned out that his son was a match for me.”

The transplant was successful, and Ward spent about five days in the hospital.

“I never knew how sick I had gotten over time,” he said. “The transplant helped me so much immediately. My vision was better, and my train of thought was better.”

And, Lana Ward was also able to donate a kidney without any complications.

“I stay in touch with my donor family,” Ward said. “They have become just like another family. It has been a long road, but it has been well worth it. I’ve been able to see two grandchildren born that I would have never seen had it not been for the generosity of an organ donor.”

Abby Litovsky, Legacy of Hope’s Community Liaison, said the partnership with Troy University is valuable because of the awareness that is raised about organ donation.

“In Alabama, there are 1,200 to 1,300 folks who are waiting for that life-saving transplant, and each of us can play a crucial role to help that number go down,” Litovsky said. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to work with the Troy University students with our student donation advocates. We want to make sure that we grow that registry and to ensure that everyone that has the potential to donate gets a chance to help save a life. I’m so glad that we were able to get SODA started on the Troy Campus, and this is just the beginning. I am so thrilled to see how this event can grow every year and we are so excited and grateful for this partnership with Troy University.”

Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor, shared the personal meaning that organ donation has for his family. His daughter, Katie Hawkins Beall, received a successful liver transplant in 2017.

Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., TROY’s Chancellor, also is pleased to see awareness raised through the Donate Life event each year. The Hawkins family also knows all too well the importance of organ donation. The Hawkins’ daughter, Katie Hawkins Beall, received a liver transplant in 2017.

“I would ask each of you, in your own personal situations, to think about those you love the most and what you are willing to do to help them continue to enjoy life as all of us know it to be,” Dr. Hawkins said. “What are you willing to do to help save the lives of others? I think those are relevant questions today. I know it was a relevant question that we never anticipated until we walked into the medical center at the University of Maryland in November of 2017 only to be told that our daughter probably needed three transplants – heart, kidney and liver. We were greatly relieved a few days later, one that she survived, but two that she only needed one transplant. That was the good news. Donors and transplants have a very special and personal meaning to us.”

According to national statistics, more than 100,000 people are awaiting a lifesaving transplant, and someone new is added to the list every eight minutes.

“Every day we lose 17 people across this country who are waiting for an organ donation. The good news is that Alabamians are particularly generous because on average about 60 percent of those across this state who are eligible be a donor participate,” Dr. Hawkins said. “The bad news is 40 percent have yet to do that. The good news is there are 400,000 people alive today due to successful organ transplant, and our daughter is but one of those. What we are here to talk about today has significance and it is particularly significant to those who are in need and to the families that love them. All of us have the capacity to give – to put our name on that list to be there to help others.”

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