“This is how I make ‘Katie memories.’ These are my memories now,” says Pat Kupec as she takes a long look at the banner that bears the image of her daughter, Katie, who died nearly 5 years ago, and was an organ donor.
“She passed away at age 32, but she lives on now because of organ donation. She is making a difference in other people’s lives every day.”
Kupec and dozens of others gathered Sept. 16 at The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) in New Britain to honor organ, eye, and tissue donors. In a somber ceremony jointly presented by HOCC and New England Donor Services (NEDS), individuals whose organ donations gave others a second chance at life were remembered – their pictures shown, and memorial messages read in their honor.
The ceremony included singing by members of the Central Connecticut State University Chapter of Student Organ Donation Advocates (SODA), which educates students about the importance of organ donation. Donor families sat side by side with organ and tissue recipients who expressed profound gratitude for the gift of life they received.
Andrew Jones takes nothing for granted. His new heart is beating strong, thanks to a transplant in 2016. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think back to that time before my transplant,” he says. “Every day has a purpose.”
Jones, a bodybuilder, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakened his heart. In the time since his transplant, he has made a career of sharing his experience in an effort to educate others about organ donation. He currently works as a hospital relations coordinator with New England Donor Services, providing a unique perspective on the other side of organ donation.
During the ceremony, NEDS presented HOCC with the Donor Partnership Award, recognizing the hospital’s support of organ and tissue donation.
“HOCC stands out among the 200 acute-care hospitals across all of New England,” said Heather Harris, a hospital relations coordinator at NEDS. “The staff at this hospital has truly gone above and beyond to help not only patients, but patient families, as well.”
Gary Havican, president of The Hospital of Central Connecticut, accepted the award with a message directed to donor families.
“You are here on what is your darkest day,” he said. “Our job is to support you in whatever way we can. Without people like your loved ones, others would not be here today. It is an honor and privilege to be trusted by you.”
With more than 115,000 people currently awaiting organ transplants in the United States, the hope is that ceremonies like these may inspire others to do the same if faced with a similar fate.
“It’s a chance to honor families who decided that they didn’t want someone else to go through what they were going through,” says David Mattox, regional director of NEDS. “It’s important to recognize the donor families, while highlighting the need for organ donation.”
Gabe Morales knows how lucky he is. Every day, 22 people on the transplant list die waiting for that life-changing chance at a healthy future. Shortly after his transplant, Gabe wrote a letter of appreciation to his donor’s family.
“My life changed for the better. I was on dialysis and diabetic,” says Morales, a New Britain resident, who received a kidney and pancreas 15 years ago. “Now I can enjoy life and share my experience with other people.”
Under a clear blue sky, as families, donor recipients, and staff members looked on, Andrew Jones hoisted the Donate Life flag outside of the hospital. Tears were shed and a poem was recited to remember the generous acts that led to this day. The flag will fly for 24 hours each time a donor provides the gift of life.
For Pat Kupec, telling Katie’s story was one more chance to make another memory with her daughter, reaffirming Katie’s impact on others, just as strong after death as it was in life.
Shown in photo above, from left, Left to right: Gary Havican, president The Hospital of Central Connecticut; Andrew Jones, heart recipient; Gabe Morales, kidney and pancreas recipient; Jane Andrews, kidney and pancreas recipient; Heather Harris, hospital relations coordinator, NEDS; David Mattox, regional director, NEDS; Katie Kupec (banner), organ donor; Pat Kupec, mother of organ donor.
For more information about organ donation, click here.