COLUMBIA — Acuff Auditorium was packed to standing-room-only in a celebration of life and giving at the annual Donate Life Month ceremony held Friday at the MU School of Medicine.
The event was a chance for transplant recipients and the families of organ donors, along with hospital staff, to come together.
Registered organ donors in Missouri: 2,971,532
People on national waiting list to receive organs: 113,897
People on Missouri waiting list, as of March 31: 1,356
Most-needed organ in Missouri: 1,037 people need a kidney
— Statistics from Missouriorgandonor.com
"Events like these show that there are individuals behind the statistics, and this gives the donors' families the chance to see the gift of sight, of improved quality of life, and to know that they've actually helped a person," said Mark Wakefield, director of renal transplantation at University Hospital.
The event also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the renal transplant program at University Hospital. Since 1972, more than 1,000 people have benefited from kidney transplants through the program, according to a news release for the event.
According to the release, a single donor can save and enhance the lives of more than 50 people. One such tissue recipient is Tory Flaherty, a former collegiate athlete who had to quit running because of knee problems.
"I had two kids, and couldn't get down on the floor and play with them," Flaherty said. "I couldn't do much of anything anymore."
She met with James Stannard, an orthopaedic surgeon at University Hospital, and learned there was no cartilage in her knee. She was put on the transplant list and received the tissue about two months later. Now, 23 months later, she has full range of motion again.
"I'm really grateful for organ and tissue donation," Flaherty said. "Everyone thinks it's all about the organs, but tissue donation has changed my life for the better."
Events for donor families and recipients were once separate, but since 2008, both sides have been brought together in one ceremony to celebrate the gift of life that was given, said Lori Kramer Clark, hospital and family service coordinator with Midwest Transplant Network.
"It has more meaning knowing the hospital staff that helped their loved one will be there to honor them," Kramer Clark said.
Doctors and family members had a chance to speak at the event, and family members approached the front of the room to create a memorial garden of paper flowers honoring their loved ones.
"It's beyond closure," Trisha Buck said. "It's a necessary part of healing."
Her daughter, Brandi Buck, died at 19, and had chosen to be an organ donor when she got her first driving permit. "We're returning to where it ended, but also to where something began, and you couldn't ask for a better place for compassion."
A psychology major, Brandi Buck had planned to become a counselor so she could help others. "She still got to do what she wanted," Trisha Buck said. "She's stubborn."