In a moving ceremony on Tuesday, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network presented its Supporting the Gift Award to HSHS St. John’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Center staff members for their tireless efforts in supporting organ and tissue donation.

Gift of Hope President/CEO Kevin Cmunt presented the award to Patti Fischer, Chief Operating Officer at HSHS St. John’s Hospital, Dr. Gregory Brandt, Pediatric Hematologist-Oncologist for HSHS St. John’s Hospital, Samantha Reed, Transplant Administrative Director for Memorial Medical Center and Dr. Marc Garfinkel, Surgeon at Memorial Medical Center.

Cmunt thanked both organizations for helping Gift of Hope rewrite stories of tragedy into stories of triumph. “Thank you to the staff at HSHS St. John’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Center for your hard work and collaboration and for partnering with Gift of Hope so that more lives can be saved and enhanced through the selfless gift of organ and tissue donation,” Cmunt said.

In accepting the award, Reed told those assembled, “This recognition is possible because of the tireless work and dedication of all our transplant team members who provide our patients with support, guidance and education before, during and after their surgeries. The coordination and teamwork between our two hospitals were crucial to ensure that this transplant was a success.”

Echoing Reed’s remarks, Fischer said, “St. John’s is committed to working with our colleagues at Memorial Medical Center and Gift of Hope to save lives through organ donation in Springfield. So far in 2017, St. John’s Hospital has helped to honor the donation decisions of eight organ donors and their family members which resulted in 23 lives saved. It’s very important to be an organ donor. We thank those who make that commitment.”

Kara Lookis was 19 years old when she passed away and became an organ donor. She had just graduated from Athens High School in Athens, Ill., and started attending Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. In January 2014, Lookis suffered a stroke and died at HSHS St. John’s.

“It is tragic to hear of someone so young passing away, but Kara’s family chose hope in the face of tragedy,” said Cmunt. “Three lives were saved when the family of this young woman made the decision to help others as an organ and tissue donor.”

Lookis’s parents, Jan and Gerry, attended the Supporting the Gift Award ceremony and shared memories of their daughter. “Kara was a very nice and humble young lady with a lot of friends,” said Jan Lookis. “She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen, but she never let her popularity go to her head. Our daughter was a very giving person, and, through organ donation, that giving spirit can continue and live on in others.”

“We are forever thankful to Kara’s care team at HSHS St. John’s Hospital,” said Gerry Lookis. “Their team did everything they could to save our little girl. When all options were exhausted, Gift of Hope and the hospital team helped us through the donation process. We are grateful that Kara’s gift was honored and helped save the lives of others in need.”

Mark Conant, 47, of Centralia received Lookis’s pancreas and one of her kidneys. Conant was diagnosed with diabetes at age 4. In 2005, he began dialysis at home. As his organ function continued to decline, he began dialysis treatments at Memorial Medical Center in 2012. During this time, Conant’s doctors began discussions of having a kidney and possible pancreas transplant. In 2014, Conant received a dual transplant.

“I don’t have words to express all that I feel, but I want to say ‘thank you,’” said Conant. “I will always honor this gift and remember the sacrifice this family experienced so others may have a second chance at life.” Conant also thanked his transplant team at Memorial Medical Center and the outstanding care they provided him during and following his transplant.

“The team at Memorial Medical Center were fabulous,” he said. “The doctor discharged me from the hospital on a Friday, four days sooner than expected. That Sunday, I walked into my church and the pastor, who wasn’t expecting me back at church for another week, exclaimed, ‘Look at this miracle that walked through our doors!’ That miracle was made possible thanks to Kara, God and the collaboration between these two hospitals.”