(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) April is recognized as National Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about the life saving power of organ donation.
Mosaic Life Care took time to celebrate Donate Life Month Wednesday by hosting a memorial walk for those whose lives have been touched by organ donation.
Over 100 people came out to celebrate the lives of organ donors and those who received their gifts, like transplant recipient Gregory Smith.
Smith had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), and after battling the illness for six years his liver began to fail.
“I had two days left to live, so we had the funeral planned. We had the lot bought. We had everything we needed to be ready for that,” Smith said.
In 2006 his family had begun preparing for the worst as he reached his final two estimated days of life, until he got a surprise. A message from the University of Nebraska Medical Center told Smith and his family that there was a liver donation match in Omaha, Nebraska.
Unfortunately after making the two hour drive to the hospital, Smith’s hope of receiving the new liver was shattered.
“My wife and I drove up there in the night and when we got there they had given that liver to somebody else,” Smith said.
Due to the lack of donated organs, the liver expected to save his life was given to an emergency patient, but Smith held out hope and within hours he was being prepped for surgery.
“They had another liver that was going through the system and I was number one in the entire Midwest. I had gone to the top of the list,” Smith said.
Now as a 12 year survivor, Smith treats each day like a gift.
“I got to see my grandchildren born. I got to see my daughter wed. I got to do things that I would not have been able to do had I not survived. All of these things are gifts that I’ve been given just because of somebody who donated an organ,” Smith said.
Smith said he has written to his donor’s family several times. Three years after the transplant, Smith got a letter from the donor family telling him the first name of his donor and described her as a loving mother of five.
Smith said he respects the family’s need to grieve and continues to write to them in hopes to someday thank the family in person.
“I’m still hoping someday the family will contact me and want to meet me, because I’d sure like to meet them,” Smith said.
Smith is now living a healthy life in St. Joseph and volunteers as a worship minister at First Baptist Church in Savannah, MO.
“As a Christian, I look at it as the Lord had another plan for me. He let me go down to two days, which was teaching me something, and now he’s got something else for me to do,” Smith said.
Smith said if his liver is still healthy after he passes away, he would like to donate it to someone in need.
On an average day in the United States there are over 115,000 people waiting for an eye, organ or tissue transplant. For more information on organ donation or to register as a donor log on to www.organdonor.gov.