CORE Honors Everyday Heroes at A Special Place Ceremony
More than 1,000 attend event that memorializes donors and commemorates their gifts of life
PITTSBURGH, June 4, 2017 – Today, at its 24th annual A Special Place ceremony, the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) paid tribute to 237 heroes — the organ, tissue and cornea donors who gave the gift of life in 2016. The memorial ceremony, held at CORE’s Pittsburgh headquarters, brought together more than 125 donor families, CORE staff and board members, as well as the extended transplant community to celebrate and remember these special individuals who gave life to others through organ, tissue and cornea donation and hope to those still waiting for a life-saving gift.
Three-year-old Rosalina “Rosie” Vargas is one of the nearly 118,000 people on the national transplant waiting list hoping for a personal hero. Born with a rare, inherited metabolic disorder that causes her body to have trouble breaking down certain amino acids, a liver transplant from a deceased donor is Rosie’s best option to regain metabolic stability and avoid the constant risk of brain damage as a result of her condition. After being listed on the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC transplant waiting list last year, the Vargas family permanently relocated to Pittsburgh from California. Sarah Vargas, Rosie’s mom, shared her family’s story before more than 1,000 people gathered for the ceremony.
“The decision to become a donor isn’t always an easy one. It’s a decision that requires generosity, selflessness and courage. There are thousands of people waiting every day for a hero of their own,” said Susan Stuart, president and CEO, CORE. “The donor families gathered here today understand that the decision to donate was one that someone else’s life literally depended on. That is true heroism.”
During the ceremony, donor mom and transplant nurse Mary Grace Hensell spoke of her son, Brian, who, after a fatal car crash in 2011, saved multiple lives as a liver, kidney and pancreas donor. She was joined at the ceremony by her son’s heart recipient, Melvin Protzman of Butler, Pennsylvania, who now affectionately calls Ms. Hensell “mom,” even though he’s many years her senior.
The last time guest speaker Marty Brown, 24, attended A Special Place, it was as a waiting list candidate. This year, Mr. Brown was able to speak to the audience as an organ recipient. After being kept alive for 1,694 days by a mechanical heart pump, Mr. Brown received a new heart in November 2016. Mr. Brown’s donor family listened in the audience as he gave thanks and shared his remarkable journey from waiting list candidate at 20 years old to transplant recipient now living a full life.
Prior to the ceremony, donor family members pinned quilt squares in remembrance of their loved ones. Musical guests included vocalist Erica Jackson, bagpiper Charles Gledich and the Southminster Ringers. Allegheny Center Alliance Church’s Rev. Donald Tucker, a liver recipient, gave the invocation.
Each organ, tissue and cornea donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of nearly 75 people. Visit core.org/register to register today.
The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States. CORE works closely with donor families and designated healthcare professionals to coordinate the surgical recovery of organs, tissue and corneas for transplantation. CORE also facilitates the computerized matching of donated organs and placement of corneas. With headquarters in Pittsburgh and an office in Charleston, West Virginia, CORE oversees a region that encompasses 163 hospitals and almost six million people throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Chemung County, New York. For more information, visit core.org or call 1-800-DONORS-7.