Tree of Life Ceremony Honors Hoag Organ Donors
On January 1, 2018, at the 129th Rose Parade®, the Donate Life Float was decorated with handwritten personal messages and dedications to organ donors. These messages were written by grateful family and friends who attended the biannual Tree of Life donor memorial event held on October 18, 2017 at Hoag. Lynn Bonas, mother of organ donor Lauren Bonas, also added her message in memory of her daughter who passed away of a brain seizure at the age of 17 in 1990.
At the Tree of Life event, Lynn spoke about the impact of knowing her daughter helped other individuals and families. The memorial was co-hosted by Hoag and OneLegacy, a long-time partner with Hoag. OneLegacy is a non-profit organ procurement organization dedicated to saving lives through organ, eye and tissue donation and serves 220 hospitals in Orange County and Los Angeles.
“From the first letter from the Eye Bank, knowing two people could see again, to the letter describing the other organ recipients, knowing they had the gift of life, all from our precious daughter was almost overwhelming,” she said.
The day after Lauren died, cardiac surgeons at Hoag, the hospital where she had been born, performed a heart transplant on Murray Kessler, who later shared his story with the Los Angeles Times. When Lynn read the article describing the donor, she was in shock knowing it had to be Lauren. She called Hoag’s transplant coordinator and then began an anonymous correspondence with Murray that later bloomed into a close friendship.
Murray lived seven more years thanks to Lauren’s heart. He passed away in 1997 of cancer.
“Getting to meet the man who received her heart was love at first sight,” Lynn said. “From the worst day of my life came a great deal of love. There’s an exponential phenomenon from a donor’s family to so many families whose loved one is a recipient. Shared love, whether you ever meet them or not, you know it is out there.”
Rosemary O’Meeghan, M.D., intensivist and chair of the Hoag Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation Program, affirmed that it takes considerable strength for families to pursue organ donation around a time when there has usually been sudden illness and death of a loved one.
The Tree of Life event acknowledges the commitment of both the registered organ donor and donor families to the noble cause of organ donation and transplantation, that helps those in our community in need of life-saving organ transplants. To acknowledge each sacred and lifesaving gift, families of Hoag organ donors receive a certificate and a replica of a leaf bearing the name of their loved one that will hang on the Tree of Life, a metal sculpture created by local artist Tova Rotlevy Cohen.
For Lynn, the event held the added significance that her youngest daughter Kimberly had recently delivered her baby at Hoag. Thanks to donor-funded advances at Hoag Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, her grandchild received the care she needed to thrive. While on a visit, they were out for a walk and happened upon the Tree of Life. Bonas made the decision that Lauren’s name should be on the tree.
“Hoag is honored to recognize the extraordinary donors who have saved countless lives with their generous gifts,” said Karen Linden, chair, Hoag board of directors. “Since its installation in 2011, the Tree of Life has served as a place for families to visit and reflect on the gift their loved ones gave. We hope it inspires others to become donors as well.”
Hoag has a long-standing commitment to saving lives through the Organ, Eye and Tissue donation program. Between 2006 and 2016, Hoag has had 87 organ donors, the highest number for any non-trauma hospital in Orange County.
If you would like to support the Hoag Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation Program with a philanthropic gift, please contact Angela Gomez at (949) 764-7217 or Angela.Gomez@hoag.org.