Helping to carry out the last wishes of organ/tissue donors is unsung work.
By Gina Martin, CTBS and Tony Cusinato
Gina Martin has worked in organ donation for 25 years, and at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network since 2013. As part of Gift of Hope’s Partner Relations team, she works closely with forensic physicians, funeral home directors, state attorneys, and law enforcement agencies. Gina is a Certified Tissue Bank Specialist and holds a bachelor’s degree in social service from Bradley University, along with a master’s degree in leadership from Grand Canyon University.
Tony Cusinato is Gift of Hope’s Partner Relations Coordinator, responsible for building and fostering relationships with coroners, medical examiners, and funeral home directors involved with organ and tissue donation cases. This included working with active coroner cases to ensure release for organ and tissue donation. Before joining Gift of Hope, Tony served as a law enforcement police officer for more than 15 years.
We are taking this opportunity to thank county coroners and their teams across Illinois and northwest Indiana for what they do.
Their involvement is critical in supporting families whose loved ones are lifegiving organ and tissue donors. It’s an unsung part of what they do that deserves everyone’s recognition and gratitude.
Among them are Marcy Patterson, Morgan County Coroner. Marcy has been a strong advocate for the gift of donation for many years. She has advocated for donor drives throughout Jacksonville, even providing t-shirts for the community at her own expense promoting the gift of donation. Her service has included organizing an online county-sponsored registration drive that encouraged more than 100 residents to join the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, and facilitating stories about donors, families and transplant recipients in the Jacksonsville-based newspaper The Source.
Another is Lynn Reed, Moultrie County Coroner, who has also served his community as a funeral director since 1985. Lynn is a member of the Illinois Coroner’s Association and serves as the organization’s Training Director. Lynn is continuously looking at new ways to educate and finding avenues to integrate donation in coroners/medical examiners’ training throughout the year. All of us should appreciate the opportunities that Lynn and the association provide to learn and continually support those who register as donors, their families, and the gift of donation that saves and heals lives.
McLean County Coroner Kathy Yoder and her staff are dedicated to ensuring the opportunity for life-giving donation with every on-scene and at-home death. Through Sudden Death – On-Scene Deaths – Suicides (SOS) protocols, coroners refer every death to Gift of Hope to evaluate for potential donation. This is a vital part of helping every family understand the opportunity to donate when a loved one passes away, no matter where the death occurs.
Coroners, medical examiners’ offices, and their teams are busy—and if they are short-staffed, it can be challenging to make the call when on scene upon a death. Kathy and her team continue to make difference in empowering every family with a loved one who passes away outside the hospital setting to consider changing other people’s lives through donation.
Clay County Coroner Bryce Henry, Crawford County Coroner Earl Deckard, DeWitt County Coroner Randy Rice, Menard County Coroner Ben Hollis, McHenry County Coroner Michael R. Rein, Ogle County Coroner Louis G. Finch IV, and Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson and their teams also are to be commended for implementing this important SOS protocol as new practice in 2021. Thirty-one counties we serve now have the protocol in place.
Ponni Arunkumar, MD, Cook County Medical Examiner, makes herself available 24/7 to work with Gift of Hope on medical examiner’s cases in which organ and tissue donation is involved. She and her team ensure they’re there to work with our Gift of Hope teams throughout the donation process, and have implemented a process to expedite ME release for donation aimed at making it as timely and seamless at possible for the donor’s family and everyone involved.
These are only a few of the coroners we work with whose work stands out in helping to carry out the last wishes of those who have committed to organ and tissue donation to save and heal lives.
On behalf of Gift of Hope, we recognize all of them and say: We’re proud to work with you.