Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network honored 14 individuals, hospitals and health systems for outstanding achievement in addressing the critical need for organ and tissue donation in 2018 by presenting each with a Lifesaving Partners Award at a special recognition ceremony held on Friday, Oct. 12, at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonald’s Campus in Oak Brook, Ill.

“Our Lifesaving Partners Awards honor the ‘best of the best’ in organ and tissue donation — those people who and organizations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help make donation happen,” said Kevin Cmunt, Gift of Hope’s President/CEO. “These are dedicated people and organizations that set the standard — and so often surpass it — in making donation possible. Through their selfless work, we give hope and life to those in need of lifesaving organ and tissue transplants.”

The Lifesaving Partners Award was established by Gift of Hope in 2001 to acknowledge the vital role its partners play in helping the organization realize its vision: that every opportunity for organ and tissue donation is successful. Over the past 18 years, the organization has awarded the Lifesaving Partners distinction to more than 250 individuals and organizations. Award recipients were nominated by Gift of Hope staff and selected by a review committee from Gift of Hope.

Here are Gift of Hope’s 2018 Lifesaving Partners Award honorees:

Leslie Barna, Stroke Coordinator, Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Joliet, Ill.

Leslie Barna is deeply committed to patient care and advocacy. Whether the patient is a newly diagnosed stroke patient with a clear road to recovery or a terminally injured patient whose outcome may call for Gift of Hope’s involvement, Leslie constantly supports what is in the best interests of all patients.

As co-chair of the Donation Committee at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Ill., Leslie Barna ensures that hospital processes and procedures are in place to support a patient or family’s decisions to donate. Leslie has worked tirelessly with hospital staff to strengthen every step of the shared donation process and has helped to develop a positive donation culture where critical care nurses feel comfortable working with Gift of Hope through the referral process, patient evaluation and donor management.

Since 2012, with Leslie’s dedicated support, Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center has seen a 105 percent increase in organ referrals, a 117 percent increase in organ approaches and a 150 percent increase in organ authorizations. In 2017, Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center was one of Gift of Hope’s top five donor hospitals among its 180 hospital partners. None of this would have been possible without Leslie’s hard work, dedication and support. Her commitment to excellent patient care and dedicated service to patients and donor families makes her a valued Gift of Hope 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

Jared Bernard, MD, Trauma Surgeon, HSHS St. John’s Hospital, Springfield, Ill.

Dr. Jared Bernard consistently demonstrates a deep commitment to every donation case in which he is involved. He understands the enduring benefits donation offers grieving families and the many lives that can be saved and enhanced through the gift of donation. Always generous with his time, expertise and guidance, he goes above and beyond to make sure every case — no matter how difficult — goes smoothly from beginning to end to ensure a successful outcome.

During a recent donor referral where a family wanted to withdraw ventilator support, Dr. Bernard remained on the unit and made himself available to Gift if Hope and the family. He took the time to carefully discuss the patient’s condition, the family’s status and the plan of care. While Gift of Hope offered the donation opportunity to the family, Dr. Bernard waited patiently on the unit to learn the outcome of the family meeting and to continue offering his support to make donation possible.

Gift of Hope staff deem it a pleasure to work with Dr. Bernard because he maintains a positive and collaborative attitude even through challenging cases. He focuses on the positives and does everything in his power to guide the donation process to a positive outcome. For his resolute commitment to saving lives through organ and tissue donation, Gift of Hope is privileged to honor Dr. Bernard as a 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

 Julie Fitzgerald, MD, Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.

Dr. Julie Fitzgerald is an extraordinary champion of organ and tissue donation. Her dedication to donation is second only to her commitment to excellence in her field. The many contributions Dr. Fitzgerald makes in her collaboration with Gift of Hope have helped to bolster education, awareness and support around donation among medical professionals.

In November 2017, Dr. Fitzgerald organized, facilitated and led Gift of Hope’s first Pediatric Brain Death Symposium. She is currently working on a follow-up symposium focusing on pediatric donation after cardiac death. Dr. Fitzgerald also helped to create the Crucial Conversations and Pediatric Brain Death Educational training videos, which are now used at many hospitals throughout Gift of Hope’s donation service area. These educational videos help health care professionals practice and develop their skills around end-of-life and pediatric brain-death conversations with grieving families.

Earlier this year, Dr. Fitzgerald co-presented a 60-minute breakout session with Gift of Hope at the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations’ national conference held in Washington, D.C. The “Changing the Pediatric Paradigm” presentation discussed best practices associated with increasing pediatric donation, improving relationships among organ procurement organizations and pediatrics, and developing new, pediatric friendly policies and protocols.

As a pediatric intensive care unit attending physician at Loyola University Medical Center and an active member of Gift of Hope’s Critical Care Advisory Group, Dr. Fitzgerald continues to advocate for donation through various presentations to the Gift of Hope Board of Directors and hospital partners on behalf of the CCAG. She is a member of the Donation Committee at Loyola and speaks on donation at the many other committees she chairs. Dr. Fitzgerald has worked tirelessly to change and improve protocols and policies and to cultivate a positive donation culture at Loyola. For her resolute commitment to saving lives through organ and tissue donation, Gift of Hope is privileged to honor Dr. Fitzgerald as a 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

 Chaim Garfinkel, Chief Information Security Officer, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, Chicago, Ill.

Unencumbered access to electronic medical records is essential to a streamlined donation process. Chaim Garfinkel recognized a major opportunity to adjust the EMR system at University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and championed changes that would help to improve access for Gift of Hope’s clinical staff. Prior to the change, Gift of Hope inactive user accounts expired every 90 days and were eventually deleted. The adjustments that Chaim implemented keep inactive accounts dormant and allow inactive users to reset their passwords and restore their access with ease. This adjustment accommodates the variability of Gift of Hope’s work with hospital partners and allows clinical staff to spend more time focusing on donors and donor families.

Information and technology services and support are crucial to successful donation outcomes. The new procedure that Chaim championed at UI Health set a positive precedent, which is now presented to hospitals and health care systems across Gift of Hope’s donation service area as a best practice with other partners now adopting it.

Chaim’s contribution brought about change that was much-needed and welcomed by Gift of Hope’s clinical staff. His commitment to excellence and his support of Gift of Hope’s vision that every opportunity for donation is successful makes Chaim a deserving recipient of the Gift of Hope 2018 Lifesaving Partners Award.

Jenn Grage, medical student, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago

Jenn Grage is a third-year medical student at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and she already demonstrates a strong pro-donation work ethic — one that is thoughtful, visionary and collaborative.

Jenn is also personally familiar with the benefits of donation. A close friend’s father received a kidney transplant and was able to enjoy many extra years with his family because someone said “yes” to donation. When he later died due to unrelated circumstances, he became a tissue donor.

Deeply touched by her experience, Jenn proactively reached out to the UI Health Transplant Department to set up a donor awareness event geared toward medical students and faculty to learn more about what it means to be an organ and tissue donor and the importance of joining a donor registry.

That important educational event gave medical students the opportunity to learn about how organ donation happens inside the hospital and their potential role with future donors and donor families. Gift of Hope worked closely with Jenn to plan a kickoff presentation followed by three consecutive weekly campus donor registration drives. Jenn took initiative and kept her eye on the mark —an impactful and successful event. She secured the venue, helped to develop and distribute promotional materials for the event and managed event registration. The results were remarkable. More than 200 medical students, respiratory therapy students, nursing students, faculty and hospital staff members attended the educational event. Already a consummate professional, Jenn not only demonstrates admirable dedication and tenacity, but she illustrates the difference that just one person with passion and conviction can make. Gift of Hope is honored to recognize Jenn as a 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

 Jimmy Moss, MD, Critical Care Unit Intensivist, Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, Ill.

In early June 2018, Dr. Jimmy Moss proved vital to the successful donation outcome of a woman in her late 40s. She was in the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, and her family and loved ones wanted to honor her wishes to donate.

When the donor became medically unstable, a Gift of Hope Organ Recovery Coordinator asked Dr. Moss if he could assist her and advise her on how to best make donation a viable option since it was so important to the donor and her family. Without a moment’s hesitation, he entered the patient’s room to assist her and the hospital staff. Dr. Moss spent most of his shift at the potential donor’s bedside, offering his expertise and showing his determination to help offer hope to the woman’s family. Over the course of several hours, it became apparent that losing the opportunity to honor the donor’s and her family’s wishes was not an option to Dr. Moss. His commitment to donation, the donor and her family helped to produce a successful outcome.

The donor’s and family members’ wishes were eventually honored, and the woman saved three lives thanks to Dr. Moss’ support and dedication on this case. For his unflinching and helpful response during a critical donation case — a testament to his work ethic and professional integrity — Gift of Hope recognizes Dr. Moss as a 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

Organ and Tissue Donation Steering Committee, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, Ill.

In the past year, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center’s Organ and Tissue Donation Steering Committee has developed, implemented and led several initiatives to instill a positive donation culture and to educate physicians and clinical staff members about organ and tissue donation.

Deeply committed to increasing education and collaboration around donation, the committee’s impactful initiatives include conducting physician and advanced practice providers brain-death simulation workshops, establishing an annual Organ and Tissue Donation Symposium, having nursing and physician leadership representation on Gift of Hope’s Critical Care Advisory Groups and having hospital leadership join the Peoria, Ill. Lifesaving Leaders Advisory Group.

Another of the committee’s noteworthy accomplishments, was granting Gift of Hope access to lifeIMAGE, an image sharing platform used throughout OSF HealthCare to expedite the delivery of images needed in donation cases. This best practice has been adopted by several other hospitals and systems in Gift of Hope’s donation service area.

OSF Saint Francis Donation Steering Committee members are also currently working on numerous innovative and educational initiatives for physicians including virtual reality programs for brain death education, which will allow Gift of Hope to provide education in virtual reality settings. The committee is also working to add Gift of Hope Expect a Call Cards in the electronic medical record throughout the OSF HealthCare system, which will prepare donor families for a call from Gift of Hope, help to offer the tissue donation opportunity to more families and help increase tissue donation authorization rates.

More than donation partners, The OSF Saint Francis Donation Steering Committee is a visionary and proactive team of professionals committed to being on the forefront of donation processes and best practices. For their remarkable contributions to help Gift of Hope offer the gift of donation and honor donors and their families, this team is well-deserving of the 2018 Lifesaving Partners recognition.

 Peoria County Coroner’s Office, Peoria, Ill.

Gift of Hope’s Donor Resource Center works with many coroner partners within the organization’s donation service area on the logistics involved with donation, including obtaining pre-autopsy releases and gathering information on the medical/social histories of donors. The Peoria County Coroner’s Office is one of them. Team members there have a collective passion for offering hope to families through the donation opportunity, and that is most evident in their open and efficient communication and collaboration — always going above and beyond to make donation happen.

Their familiarity and efficiency with the shared donation process makes it possible for Gift of Hope’s Donor Resource Center to work seamlessly with them. Coordinating donation has many moving parts, and the Peoria County Coroner’s Office’s support and approach to donation cases helps make even the most difficult ones successful. And their authentic positivity and kindness shines through everything they do. Gift of Hope is fortunate to work with such a professional and compassionate group of professionals to make donation possible for grieving families. For their graciousness, steadfast support of donation and commitment to excellence, Gift of Hope is proud to present the Peoria County Coroner’s Office with a 2018 Lifesaving Partners Award.

 Don Rowley, Transplant Recipient

Don Rowley is a two-time cornea transplant recipient. He received the gift of sight in 1999 from two different donors and since then has made it his mission to honor the generous decisions of those who save and enhance the lives of others through the gift of donation. In 2005, Don became an Ambassadors for Hope volunteer and has used his free time to share his story and inform and educate others on the benefits of organ and tissue donation.

Don is always enthusiastic about sharing his story and consistently demonstrates his commitment to speak about the benefits of donation at community outreach events. Long before Illinois passed legislation inviting 16- and 17-year-olds to join the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, Don had built relationships with several north suburban Chicago high school principals and administrators to speak with students entering driver’s education programs. A true go-getter, Don on average speaks at more than 20 schools a year and is always invited to return.

Don is extremely gifted at spreading the donation message and providing facts and information about the differences donors and their families make in the lives of those in need. Gift of Hope’s mission is strengthened through the work of its Ambassadors for Hope volunteers, and, for the past 10 years, Don has demonstrated remarkable passion, dedication and leadership in his invaluable contributions to Gift of Hope’s mission. Gift of Hope is proud to honor Don with the 2018 Lifesaving Partners Award.

Michelle Ruther, RN, Clinical Consultant, Clinical Effectiveness, Advocate Aurora Health, Downers Grove, Ill.

In 2017, Advocate Aurora Health was part of Gift of Hope’s inaugural Chicago Organ Summit where transplant centers and hospital systems came together to present their commitments to increase donation and transplantation in the Chicago area. Advocate Aurora Health pledged to develop and implement protocols and processes systemwide at Advocate Health Care to strengthen the shared donation process with Gift of Hope and to create uniform practices among Advocate hospitals. Michelle Ruther worked closely with Gift of Hope to bring these initiatives to fruition.

Over the past year and a half, Michelle has been dedicated to maintaining momentum around these initiatives. As a result, she successfully streamlined more than 60 donation policies into one systemwide brain-death policy. Improved electronic medical record access was implemented system-wide.  In early 2018, Michelle helped to develop bridging language and support the implementation of crucial conversation videos for adult and pediatric donation. These tools will be used to educate clinical staff on best practices for speaking with families in end-of-life situations and, ultimately, transitioning that conversation to Gift of Hope to offer the donation opportunity.

Michelle works closely with Advocate Aurora Health leadership and administration to provide consistent regular updates on the progress of these systemwide donation initiatives and to highlight successes.  As the team leader of the Gift of Hope Advocate Working Group, Michelle presents opportunities for improvement to establish best practices. She is currently working with Gift of Hope to engage nursing leadership to develop a systemwide Donation Committee to instill and cultivate a donation culture, strengthen all aspects of the donation process and increase donation awareness and education.

Michelle’s dedication to strengthening the shared donation process, coupled with Advocate Aurora Health’s commitment Gift of Hope’s vision, resulted in an increase in referrals, approaches and authorizations throughout Advocate Health Care over the last year. Michelle is a passionate and dedicated donation advocate, and Gift of Hope is honored to recognize her as a 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

Theresa Shea, Donor in Spirit Mother

To describe Theresa Shea as an amazing woman is an understatement. She is an attorney, an educator, a public speaker and a donation advocate, but, most importantly, she is a mother. In December 2015, she and her husband, Kevin, faced the devastating news that their son, Aidan, would not recover from the arteriovenous malformation rupture he suffered. Theresa and Kevin wanted to honor his compassionate spirit and giving nature by authorizing donation on his behalf. But Aidan became what Gift of Hope calls a donor in spirit — someone who is not able to become a donor but who has a direct positive impact on the experiences of future donors and their families. Aidan’s story and the Shea’s journey became the catalyst for change that recommitted Gift of Hope to pediatric donation.

Theresa was one of Gift of Hope’s keynote speakers at its first Pediatric Donation Symposium in November 2017. She made such an impact that she was immediately booked to speak at the organization’s 2018 Critical Care Seminars — day-long trainings with hospital critical care nursing teams focused on donation outcomes, donor families and donation best practices.

Theresa possesses remarkable inner strength, talent for connecting with others and an indefatigable desire to help spread the message about the importance and significance of organ and tissue donation to medical professionals and hospital personnel. Theresa’s message is simple and heartfelt: Every family should be provided with the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether donation is right for them. With this message, Theresa has become a powerful advocate for future donor families.

Gift of Hope has been honored to accompany Theresa and her family on their donation journey. Aidan is a donor in spirit, and his generous nature and his family’s desire to donate on his behalf left an indelible mark on donation. It is a privilege to present Theresa with a 2018 Lifesaving Partners Award.

Andy Trosper, Transplant Recipient, Gift of Hope Ambassadors for Hope Volunteer

Andy Trosper is a Gift of Hope Ambassadors for Hope volunteer who works tirelessly to support Gift of Hope’s mission and vision. Andy generously offers his personal free time to attend and participate in many donation education events held at various hospitals throughout the year, some of which can be more than 70 miles away from his home.

Whether he is needed during work hours or after, Andy never turns down a volunteer request. He shows up on time and is always ready to share his heartwarming story as a liver transplant recipient in the most professional and impactful way. This year during National Donate Life Month in April, Andy met over 130 people to help Gift of Hope increase awareness about the importance and significance of donation.

Through the many presentations Andy has participated in with Gift of Hope, he has helped to create a positive donation culture among medical professionals, community members and students. He has changed the way people view donation and has helped to bolster Gift of Hope’s hospital partners’ support of organ and tissue donation.

A passionate and inspiring donation advocate, Andy is a perfect example of how donation impacts the lives of transplant recipients and their families. His unyielding commitment to Gift of Hope’s mission makes Andy a valued 2018 Gift of Hope Lifesaving Partner.

 Lauri Umbarger, Donor Mother, Ambassadors for Hope Volunteer

Lauri Umbarger’s son, Brandon, passed away in May 2012 when he was only 17 years old. She and her family authorized donation on Brandon’s behalf, a decision that saved four lives and sent Lauri on a journey to continue helping others waiting for lifesaving and life-enhancing organ and tissue transplants.

Lauri is a Gift of Hope Ambassadors for Hope volunteer, and she is on the Champaign Life Goes on Committee, an Illinois Secretary of State volunteer group in Champaign County, Ill. Lauri has made it her mission to educate others on the significance and benefits of donation and on the importance of registering to become donors and sharing those decisions with loved ones. Since joining both volunteer groups, Lauri has shared her story of loss and speaks about the healing benefits that donation brought to her family amid their tragedy. No event is too big or small for her. Lauri has volunteered at many donor registry booths and has made impactful and lasting contributions by speaking at numerous Gift of Hope events. Additionally, she has reached thousands by sharing Brandon’s and her family’s story with local media.

Today, Lori continues to pay tribute to Brandon’s generous spirit and his lifesaving legacy. Her willingness to share her time and her story with as many people as possible has inspired area hospital staff, the community and some of her family members to support donation. Gift of Hope is proud to honor Lauri, an inspiring and impactful 2018 Lifesaving Partner.

 Ashley Wrigley, Sepsis Clinical Coordinator, Decatur Memorial Hospital, Decatur, Ill.

Ashley Wrigley has been instrumental in finding solutions and opening doors to strengthen the relationship between Gift of Hope and Decatur Memorial Hospital. In spring of this year, a first-person authorization referral at Decatur Memorial Hospital presented challenging and complex dynamics that resulted in the family objecting to moving forward with donation for their loved one. This became a tense and complicated referral, but Ashley called on her great relationships throughout the hospital and transformed challenges into opportunities.

Together, Decatur Memorial Hospital and Gift of Hope agreed not to move forward with donation. However, this outcome resulted in opportunities that helped foster a supportive and collaborative relationship between the two organizations. After the case, Decatur Memorial Hospital invited Gift of Hope to its monthly Ethics committee meeting. This forged an important relationship between the Decatur Memorial Hospital Foundation and Gift of Hope’s Community Affairs Department, which agreed to work together to increase donation awareness in the Decatur community. Gift of Hope has also established a productive relationship with the hospital’s General Counsel and has provided her with information and guidance related to the Anatomical Gift Act and first-person authorization.

Decatur Memorial Hospital has also reinstated a Donation Committee, which Ashley co-chairs. Ashley set the committee’s agenda and built a robust roster of committee members, all committed to the donation process. Ashley has also worked collaboratively with Gift of Hope to review and revise the brain-death and end-of-life patient care policies at Decatur Memorial Hospital.

Ashley’s invaluable contributions, her willingness to go above and beyond for grieving families and her support of donation make her a much-valued Gift of Hope 2018 Lifesaving Partner.