In a poignant ceremony held the evening of June 21, UNOS rededicated the National Donor Memorial on the grounds of its headquarters. Participants from the national OPTN/UNOS Board of Directors meeting and UNOS staff welcomed a number of guests, including several participants from the national advisory committee that guided the design of the memorial in 2003.
“A number of the people who gave their time and talents for the development of the memorial took part in its groundbreaking, but they haven’t been able to see it in its final form,” said UNOS Executive Director Walter Graham. “We are honored to welcome them back, representing the hundreds of thousands of people personally touched by the experience of organ and tissue donation.”
Maureen McDonnell, First Lady of the Commonwealth of Virginia, was a featured speaker at the event. She spoke for the first time publicly about the fact that her sister, Ellen Gardner, received a lung transplant in January 2010. “Because an individual signed an organ donor card, or a courageous family is willing to make the gift of life, every candidate on a waiting list has hope,” she said. “And thanks to the talented medical teams, their lives are renewed and transformed. My family is now part of the UNOS family.”
At the ceremony, Milt and Janet Bemis of David City, Neb., were honored with the first annual National Donor Memorial Award for Excellence for their volunteer efforts in promoting organ donation. Their two-year-old son Matthew became a donor after an accidental drowning in 1984. The family has maintained an exceptionally close relationship with Lily Mandel (now Lily Allen), the recipient of Matthew’s liver, and her family. (Ms. Allen also attended the National Donor Memorial ceremony.) The two families participated together in the 2009 Tournament of Roses Parade, where Matthew was honored with a floragraph on the Donate Life Stars of Life float. The Bemis family has generously volunteered for many years with Nebraska Organ Recovery System, advocating donation education in area schools and supporting state legislation to promote donation.
Nominations for the National Donor Memorial Award for Excellence were sought from all of the organ procurement organizations in the United States, with an emphasis on “unsung heroes” who have not received national recognition. For this initial award, 21 nominations were received. All nominees will receive a certificate of recognition. “It is heartwarming to see the efforts of these volunteers to spread word about donation throughout our nation,” said Jill McMaster, OPTN/UNOS Vice President for Patient and Donor Affairs. “They represent just the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ as there are thousands of others nationwide contributing to this effort.”
The National Donor Memorial, supported entirely by private and charitable contributions, honors organ and tissue donors and their families who have saved and enhanced the lives of others through their generous gifts. The Memorial includes a 10,000-square-foot garden on the grounds of UNOS’ headquarters as well as a Web site, www.donormemorial.org, which currently displays more than 900 tributes from family and friends of organ and tissue donors, transplant recipients and others touched by the donation experience.