Organ recipients thank donors at Valentine’s ceremony

Jason and Stacy Elam and their 11-year-old son, Brendan thanked an organ donor for saving Brenden's life.

Jason and Stacy Elam and their 11-year-old son, Brendan thanked an organ donor for saving Brenden’s life.

Children’s Mercy Hospital thanked organ donors and their families for the gift of life at a ceremony on Saturday.

The event for area organ donors and their families mixed tears, applause and roses.

It is done every year near Valentine’s Day, said Mary Ann Riesco of Children’s Mercy, because “it is a day of the heart, a holiday of love.”

Jason and Stacy Elam of Kearney stood at a podium with their 11-year-old son, Brendan, and told how the boy lives because of a donated liver.

Brendan was born with a genetic disorder that eventually caused liver failure. In March 2012, suffering fevers, abdominal pain and infections, he went on the liver transplant list.

“Over the next nine months, our new norm was patience,” his father said.

Brendan would be knocked down on the list at times because he was too sick for the transplant.

Finally, that December, the operation took place and his parents saw his removed organ.

“His liver looked like a bag of hamburger – it was that bad,” his father said.

About a week later, Brendan raced a nurse in the hallway and was sent home.

At the one-year checkup, he had grown five inches and gained over 120 pounds.

“On behalf of all transplant recipients, we wish to express our gratitude and love to you and all donor families…,” the father said. “Your gifts will be honored and cherished for the rest of our lives.”

organ-donor-3Barb Starr of Blue Springs gave another perspective. She stood next to a picture of her son, David, an engineering student who died after a car accident at age 19 more than two decades ago.

When he was on a ventilator, she and other family members decided to donate.

His heart went to a man with four children ages 10 to 20. The man lived on for 18 more years and saw his children become adults.

“David didn’t die to become a donor,” Starr said, “but after he died decisions had to be made.”

As is common, she went for years without hearing from the man who got the heart and his family. The people who get organs don’t want to cause the donor families pain, she said.

But one day in response to her, they sent a letter that said in part, “love from all of our hearts and David’s heart.”

Another son of hers later donated a kidney to a near stranger, she said.

“Your recipient will honor you and treasure you for the rest of your life,” she said.

The hospital and Midwest Transplant Network staff then called family members of donors forward. Each got a hug, a rose and a ceramic angel.

Many cried as they returned to their seats.

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