INDIANAPOLIS — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and with more than two months left in the year, a record number of Hoosiers have given the gift of life through organ donation in 2020.
This is the most lifesaving organs transplanted that the Indiana Donor Network has ever done in a single year.
“My mom was an intellect. She loved to read,” Tina Gaither said. “She was always educating herself.”
It’s never easy losing a loved one, especially in a pandemic.
“This was a shock. It wasn’t like she was sick or we were preparing for something, the worst,” Gaither said. “It just happened out of nowhere in the middle of a crisis already.”
But in June, Gaither’s mother, Donné Mills, had a stroke and passed away.
Gaither knew her mother had always been a registered organ donor.
“She always told me it’s good to give back,” she said. “And she would tell me when I asked her, 'why would you want to donate?' She said 'because I can’t take it with me.'”
After her mother died, Gaither was asked if she’d speak with the Indiana Donor Network, the state’s recovery organization.
“The Indiana Donor Network has really been there," Gaither said. "I don’t know of any other organization that could’ve helped me through this process and this grieving process like they have."
Mills is now one of the record-number of Hoosiers who have saved and healed more lives in 2020 than any other year.
“To those families who are going through the worst moments of their life, to be able to say yes is amazing,” said Kellie Hanner, CEO and president of Indiana Donor Network.
“Never in a million years did I think that she would have been able to use as many organs and gift those to four different people,” Gaither said.
Mills’ kidneys, lungs, and liver saved four women’s lives.
“They were all pretty much a group of her peers," Gaither said. "She would’ve been ecstatic. She just would’ve been ecstatic to know that she was able to help someone out and still have a holiday. I mean the holidays are coming. And these ladies should be home with their families.”
The Indiana Donor Network cites several factors that were critical in facing the many challenges of COVID-19.
“We were lucky that we were able to partner very early on with the Indiana State Department of Health to get COVID testing on every single one of our potential donors," Hanner said. "So that made his process a lot smoother."
Plus, they worked more closely with hospitals to increase donor referral rates, on-site evaluations, and the age range of patients who can become donors.
“Last year, we hit a milestone of hitting over four million registered donors in the state of Indiana," Hanner said. "So I think that the public is definitely becoming more educated about the process of donation and the fact that they can be a donor."
“It’s just amazing to me," Gaither said. "Amazing. I don’t know how more people don’t want to participate in something like that."
Perhaps, one of the few glimmers of light in such a dark time is the generosity Hoosiers exemplified this year to save more lives.
“If it touches just one more person to change their status when they go to renew their license if it’s not on there and they go, 'you know what I never really thought about it, let me change this,' that’s one more person or several more people who could be affected by just one soul,” Gaither said.
More than 110,000 people nationwide are still waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, and 1,300 of those patients are here in Indiana. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list.
Anyone can register to become a donor at the BMV or by going to donatelifeindiana.org.