Feb. 14 is not just Valentine’s Day.
It is also National Donor Day, a day originally designated in 1998 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Saturn Corporation, and its United Auto Workers to raise awareness for organ, eye, tissue, marrow, platelet, and blood donation.
The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting donation, education, and research for the purpose of saving and improving lives through organ, tissue, and cornea transplantation. CORE’s vision is for every potential donor to make a pledge for life.
CORE is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States.
With headquarters in Pittsburgh and an office in Charleston, West Virginia, CORE oversees a region that encompasses 150 hospitals and more than five million people throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Chemung County, New York.
Nearly 115,000 people across the nation are waiting for a life-saving transplant. Just one person can save the lives of as many as eight people and one individual can improve the lives of as many as 75 people or more through tissue donation.
One mother in Jackson County is working hard everyday to promote organ donation and has made it her life mission to encourage others with her inspirational story.
On Sept. 14, 2012, Lisa Johnson received the phone call every mother dreads. Her 26-year-old daughter, Jasmine Nicole Moore, had been involved in a serious auto accident and had sustained severe head trauma. She was life-flighted to Charleston General Hospital.
“I received the call around 7 p.m. that she had been in an accident and was being taken to the ER,” Johnson recalled. “After a few hours I was able to speak with a surgeon around 9 p.m. The surgeon told me she was very ill and we needed to get to the hospital. He told us it was raining and to be very careful, that they didn’t need any more accidents that evening. It really touched me, surgeons don’t have to do that, they don’t have to take care of the family, but he did and I appreciated that.”
The pressure on Moore’s brain was rising and a neurosurgeon was called in to see what could be done. The accident took place on a Friday evening and the family was told the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical.
At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16, the final test was run and the family was then told that Moore was gone. She was declared brain dead, it was then that the doctor told Johnson that there was someone who wanted to speak with her.
“With tears rolling down my cheeks, the size of fifty-cent pieces, in walks Becky Shrader, this little tiny lady who told me that Nicole was listed as an organ donor. I was shocked,” Johnson said. “I told her that I didn’t know. It was then I looked at my husband beside me and said, ‘she’s going to live on’.”
Later that Sunday the family was told to go home and get some rest, that it would be a long process.
“They told us her ‘gifts’ would be taken early Monday,” Johnson noted. “We stayed there the entire day, I spoke with her, told her I didn’t know what I was going to do without her, she was my baby. I laid with her and we just waited to see what was next.”
An organ donation, it is a long process. Individuals are pulled from the recipient list in order to verify if there is a match, once a match is found the doctor is contacted to see if the recipient is healthy enough for the transplant. If the first recipient is unable to receive the gift, the next individual on the list is run through the same process.
“All I knew was in the realization that my child was gone, we would honor her wishes as a donor and she was going to do great things,” Johnson said.
Through Moore’s decision to become an organ donor, four lives have been saved, two more were given sight, and through total donation of skin, tissue, and blood, 232 lives have been touched.
“We have been contacted by several people who have received her gifts. One gentleman, a mailman, reached out to us after his transplant to let us know he had needed a knee replacement or he would have to go on disability. My girl gave him a new lease on life and he was so thankful,” Johnson said. “We also received a letter from an eye bank who told us two people were now seeing the world through her eyes. She is my heart, my angel.”
CORE works with donor families to help and encourage them to spread the word about becoming an organ donor. In 2017 the Johnson family attended the Rose Bowl Parade as a donor family through CORE.
Each year the Donate Life Rose Parade Float Committee honors donors and recipients of gifts with a special float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Those who walk beside the float are living donors, those who ride the float are recipients of gifts, and those who have passed are honored with floragrapghs, which is a portrait created with floral materials. The loving and generous individuals portrayed in the floragraphs leave a positive impact on their families, communities, and those they have helped.
A Special Place Ceremony is another way CORE honors donors and their families. They have a ceremony in Charleston in the spring and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the fall. It is a time of celebration where families can share their stories with other donor families. Johnson had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at one of the ceremonies.
Johnson and her other daughter Leah, speak at public engagements around the country to honor Nicole and her decision to be an organ donor. She wants people to be aware of their loved ones wishes and be willing to honor them.
Johnson has shared her story with doctors, nurses, and hospitals. She also attended an event at Charleston General where they partnered with CORE to create a donor tree at the hospital. Gold leaves were placed on the tree with the names of donors. Nicole was one of the first leaves placed on the tree.
The Johnson’s are advocates with WV Donate Life and with CORE in Pittsburgh. They are also part of a team called Allegheny Transplant who went to Utah over the summer to compete in games like basketball, swimming, biking and corn hole. Only recipients are able to compete, but donor families are welcome to attend. The next event will be in New Jersey in 2020.
In 2014 the Ripley Wendy’s partnered with WV Donate for Live and raised $10,000 for the organization.
Through knowledge of organ donation, Johnson hopes to encourage others to become donors. She wants people to realize just because someone is an organ donor, it does not mean hospitals or doctors will not try to save their lives if something happens, which is the common fear people have about being an organ donor. Her mission is life and she wants to use the story of her “angel child” to inspire others to become donors.
“When I was a little girl growing up, I always thought of heroes as firemen and police officers, but since I have become a mom to an angel, I realize they are the heroes,” Johnson said. “Now my mission is life and my angel is my hero.”