Organ transplant recipient shares experience and gratitude during National Donate Life Month

Southeast Health gives tribute to organ donors with honor walk
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 3:05 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - The nation is seeing an increase in organ transplant procedures. More than 42,800 were performed last year, which is a 3-percent increase from what 2021 saw according to preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). UNOS claims the year 2022 set a new annual record.

April is National Donate Life month where organ donor advocates take the time to bring awareness to the impact being an organ donor can have.

“I tell everybody May 12th of this year I’ll be 25 years old,” Frank Reeves said. “I have two birthdays.”

This month Reeves turns 62, but almost 25 years ago he underwent a kidney transplant that he said saved his life.

“My kidneys functioned until I was 35 years old and at that time I went on the transplant list and I did peritoneal dialysis,” Reeves said.

He was diagnosed with End-Stage Renal Disease and waited over two years for his transplant match

“You never know when or even if you’re getting the call,” Reeves said.

When he got the call he said it was bittersweet.

“I received a transplant from somebody’s generosity and was able to really receive the gift of life,” Reeves said.

Reeves said has an immense amount of gratitude to his donor.

“I will never be able to thank my donor until hopefully later on in life when we see each other,” Reeves said.

However, Reeves made an effort to connect with his donor’s family who later became like his own.

“I was able to meet my organ donation family after a brief period of time and basically had an extended family and was able to let them know that the gift they gave was hopefully not only positive but a good thing moving forward,” Reeves said.

One way Southeast Health Medical Center works to shine light during a time of darkness and tragedy is through honor walks.

“The amount of time an organ recipient can receive well is a variable, but it can be many, many years. so, it is no small sacrifice for us to give a few moments just to honor the important gift,” Tim Mayhall, the director of spiritual care at Southeast Health, said.

During honor walks a call is sent out to everyone in the hospital and staff members. Staff and loved ones will go and silently line the pathway from the patients’ medical unit to their destination for organ procurement.

“Honor walks are intended to give our staff and associates the opportunity to support and honor organ donors and their families as they give the gift of life,” Mayhall said.

The hospital has done this since 2017.

“Since then, it has become a part of our regular culture to honor the heroic gift of donation,” Mayhall said.

He said the walk is to pay tribute to organ donor patients as they are saving lives.

“We feel a deep sense of extraordinary gratitude for our patients, for our families,” Mayhall said.

Honor walks are only done with the families’ approval or request.

“For some families, the gift of organ donation helps them define meaning and closure in a very difficult experience,” Mayhall said.

Legacy of Hope is Alabama’s Organ and Tissue donation alliance.

“Organ donation is sometimes a sensitive issue, but it can really, really make an impact, a life changing impact on so many people,” Shawn Fanchette, a partner services specialist and hospital liaison for Dothan area Legacy of Hope, said.

During national donate life month Fanchette emphasizes the result an organ donor can make.

“One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people,” Fanchette said. “A tissue donor can impact the lives of up to 50 different people.”

Fanchette said it’s common to be an organ donor in Alabama and the number of donors is growing. The waitlist both statewide and nationwide is growing too.

“There’s about 100,000 people nationwide on transplant lists right now,” Fanchette said. “In Alabama, that’s about 1,300 people waiting for an organ, so when you see that, ‘sign up to be an organ donor,’ when you renew your license, we encourage you to do that because it can make a difference.”

Fanchette reminds people it is up to the individual if they want to be an organ donor.

“It’s a personal choice for folks, but you have the opportunity to be giving the gift of life,” Fanchette said.

The gift of life given to people like Reeves.

“I am very, very fortunate I was able to continue to work,” Reeves said. “I was able to see my daughter graduate from high school, college, I got two grandsons, so it’s been a very positive thing.”

His mission of organ and tissue donation advocacy is not over.

“There’s a lot of people in this area that are waiting for either transplants or on these lifesaving measures to keep them basically alive on a day-to-day basis,” Reeves said.

While previously on the waitlist, Reeves explains how it can be a lengthy process.

“There’s some specific things that recipients have to meet as far as criteria things like blood type, different testing that’s done through the University of Alabama Health Science Foundation and through your local doctors and nephrologists that support these types of programs,” Reeves said.

Click here to sign up to become an organ donor - or to make a monetary donation you can to support Legacy of Hope.

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